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Free School Meals: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 56088, tabled on 8 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the cost of funding the continued provision of free school meals over the summer holidays in 2020.

Answered on

15 June 2020

The department provides free school meals for 1.3 million of the most disadvantaged children. This funding is equivalent to £2.30 per meal, saving families around £400 a year. During this period, we are asking schools to support children at home who are eligible for and claiming benefits-related free school meals, by providing meals or food parcels through their existing food providers wherever possible. However, we recognise that providing meals and food parcels is not a practicable option for all schools. That is why on 31 March, we launched a national voucher scheme as an alternative option, with costs covered by the department.

As of Monday 8 June, Edenred has reported that over £139 million worth of voucher codes has been redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families through the scheme. Edenred has reported that over 17,500 schools had placed orders for the scheme as of Tuesday 26th May.

We are continuing to provide schools with their expected funding, including funding to cover benefits-related free school meals and universal infant free school meals, throughout this period. However, if schools are unable to use the national voucher scheme and choose an alternative approach, they can be reimbursed through the exceptional costs fund, where the costs cannot be met from their existing resources. Further details are available here:

Provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only. However, during the Easter holidays and May half term break, the department met the costs of the national voucher scheme. This was in recognition of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for schools during this time. As schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school. Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils. It is not intended for the national voucher scheme to run during the summer holidays.

The government has made significant wider support available for children and families. On 10 June, my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, confirmed an additional £63 million to be distributed to local authorities in England to help those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to COVID-19. Thousands of disadvantaged children will also receive additional support over the summer through our Holiday Activities and Food programme which offers activities and free meals. In addition, the government has introduced an uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by around £1,000 a year for the next 12 months as part of an injection of over £6.5 billion by government into the welfare system. Additionally, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are providing £16 million for food support through charities including FareShare and WRAP.

These are rapidly developing circumstances. We continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

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