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Supermarket and fuel vouchers are to be included in an emergency assistance scheme to support Cheshire East residents struggling to feed families and heat homes, writes Belinda Ryan.

The scheme was set up by Cheshire East in April 2013 to support vulnerable people facing immediate hardship, following a crisis or disaster, to prevent homelessness, to keep families together and safeguard vulnerable people.

It provides rent deposits, furniture and white goods.

Last year, 1,284 claims were made for assistance under the scheme. Of these, 686 were successful.

Following a recent review and public consultation, the council’s corporate policy committee agreed unanimously to amend it to include the provision of supermarket vouchers – which will be in addition to the existing process of referring people to food banks – and to provide utility vouchers to those in fuel crisis.

Cash has not been provided in the past, and still will not, as part of this scheme because of fear of abuse.

But some residents who responded to the consultation joined some councillors in their concerns about the possible abuse of supermarket vouchers.

Cllr Rod Fletcher (Alsager, Lib Dem) said: “I was astonished a few days ago to hear in the media complaints that some supermarkets are refusing to allow people to buy alcohol and cigarettes with these food vouchers.

“To me the supermarkets are acting correctly.”

Conservative group leader Janet Clowes (Wybunbury) had similar concerns.

“I can see the benefits of having a food voucher that you take to the supermarket and you choose the food for your family, as opposed to a food bank where you have to take what’s available,” she said.

“But that is my concern. It is about the alcohol, it is about cigarettes. I don’t know what the answer is.

“I welcome the idea of fuel vouchers. It’s an excellent idea and absolutely essential in the current climate.”

Cllr Nick Mannion (Macclesfield West & Ivy, Lab) was worried the £220,000 budget allocated for the scheme might not be enough.

He suggested the matter came back to a future committee if it looked like the budget was going to be ‘significantly breached’ before the year-end or if there were any issues with the way the scheme was operating.

“I’m worried that we might be faced with a situation where we reach next winter where everyone’s fuel costs have gone up, the money’s gone, the budget’s gone,” he said.

On concerns raised about vouchers, director of finance Alex Thompson said the consultation responses showed supermarket vouchers were preferable to restricted ones.

He said vouchers would be granted on a one-off basis for people in “literally short term crisis who can’t feed themselves that week”.

“There’s no expectation that they will come back the following week because we would expect to get in touch with the relevant agencies to provide that ongoing support,” said Mr Thompson.

He added councillors would be updated about the scheme and information would be brought back to committee if there was a risk of overspending.

3 Comments

  1. Martin Bond says:

    Alcohol and nicotine are, like heroin and cocaine, addictive drugs which are popular because, for a while they make you feel good. I think it is cruel to tell people that these drugs are ok to take, then just when they need them most we take them away. If people with not very much find that alcohol or nicotine brings a little cheer to a bleak existance who are we to condemn it?

    • OMG get real, these are food vouchers, certainly not for drink and fags, why even question it?? you cannot feed a child on vouchers if the selfish parent decides to buy booze and fags with them, who is paying for this, yes we all are!!!

    • The Observer says:

      But the money some receive is to support a family not a habit.

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