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U-turn on school food vouchers in England over summer, the sector response to the Covid Summer Food Fund

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@EducationGovUK has announced a Covid Summer Food Fund which will be a one-off scheme in response to the unique circumstances many families face during these unprecedented times.

The Covid Summer Food Fund will be a one-off scheme in response to the unique circumstances many families face. There are no plans for the scheme to continue beyond summer, and those eligible will be those already on free school meals.

The scheme will support children who are eligible for free school meals with a voucher to cover the full six week summer holiday beginning next month, which schools will be able to order before the end of term.

Vouchers will be provided via the existing system run by Edenred, which will run until the end of the summer term. Schools will be asked to put in orders for support over the summer holiday before the start of the holidays. Guidance for schools will follow shortly.

Thousands of children will also receive additional support through our Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals throughout the summer holidays.

Last week the Prime Minister announced a new welfare assistance scheme for local authorities in England to help those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to coronavirus.

DCMS and DEFRA are also providing a grant of up to £16 million to provide food for those who are struggling as a result of coronavirus. The programme will provide millions of meals over a 12-week period and will be delivered through charities including FareShare and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme).

The Government has injected over £6.5bn into the welfare system, including increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 a year, to help those in most need as well as rolling out income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“This is a unique and hugely challenging period, which we know will have a profound impact on people’s lives.

“We are listening to those who need the most help, and taking unprecedented action to make sure no child goes hungry during this period.

“Today we are announcing a new Covid Summer Food Fund which will support children who are eligible for free school meals. This adds to the wide range of support this government has put in place to support families, not just at school but through our welfare system, in funding for local services, and via a new welfare assistance scheme to help those who are struggling.”

Sector Response to the summer school food vouchers

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the Government U-turn on funding free school meals, said:

‘’This is a welcome U-turn from the government and a victory for the 1.3 million children who were at risk of going hungry this summer.

“It is thanks to the amazing work of Marcus Rashford and campaigners that the Government has had no choice but to reverse their decision.

“The Government must now confirm that this new money will be for the direct provision of free school meals to all eligible children.”

Helen Barnard, Acting Director of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“In responding to this campaign to make sure children don’t go hungry this summer, the government has rightly acknowledged growing public concern about the rising injustice of child poverty during the pandemic.

“Extending the voucher scheme into the summer will help ensure that we don’t see the hardship children are facing get worse in the summer holidays, but it only covers a minority of children in poverty and the pressures are much wider than just school meals. We are already soaring numbers of families being pulled under and having to rely on foodbanks to get through the current crisis, even with the voucher scheme in place.

“Providing an urgent uplift of £20 per week to families with children claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits would ease the pressures and give families vital support in turbulent times, especially where parents have lost work as a result of the pandemic. The tragedy of this pandemic must not be compounded by rising child poverty.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“No young person should have to go hungry and ensuring vulnerable pupils, including those on free school meals and with special educational needs and disabilities, are provided for is a top priority for councils and schools.

“We are therefore pleased that the Government has committed to provide this lifeline for many families across the country which will ensure that vulnerable children will not go hungry over the summer holidays.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that listening and working together can lead to policies that have positive outcomes for our most vulnerable communities, including children and young people from low-income families. 

“There are an estimated 1.3 million young people entitled to free school meals, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that many more families have signed up to benefits. 

“Councils have done an excellent job supporting their communities during the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to work with schools, families and the Government to ensure that children and young people receive the support they need.”

Commenting on the announcement of funding for FSM over the summer holidays, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The NEU welcomes the news that the government will provide a £120 million “Covid summer food fund” to support children and families who are facing real crisis as the summer holiday approaches.  In the fifth richest country in the world, it is not right that so many children face food insecurity, especially in a time of global health crisis.

“After a great deal of public pressure the Government has finally recognised the importance of ensuring that children do not go hungry during this time of unprecedented pandemic. The NEU congratulates Marcus Rashford for the stand he has taken.

“There should never have been any hesitation on the part of Government. For too many children and young people hunger is an all too familiar part of their daily life. It is now time for Government to act upon the need to end child poverty, not just for the period of a pandemic but for all time.

“The hardship and struggle our current benefit system and support for those living in poverty will not end with the containment of this virus. COVID 19 is a natural phenomenon –  poverty is not.

“We must work together as a society to build back better after this crisis, ensuring that families facing food insecurity and poverty are offered the support they need to get back on their feet.

“Provision of free school meals over the summer was the 2nd of the NEUs 10 point plan for education. We look forward to working with others, including Government to achieve the other 9 points.”

 
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