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Free School Meals

Question for Department for Education

UIN 91683, tabled on 17 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to provide free school meals to eligible children over the (a) autumn half-term and (b) Christmas holiday period.

Answered on

23 September 2020

The government has taken unprecedented and substantial action to ensure that children do not go hungry as we take measures to tackle coronavirus, including in relation to free school meals.

In the first instance, we asked schools to support eligible pupils by providing meals or food parcels through their existing food providers wherever possible. For circumstances where this was not possible, we established a national voucher scheme and the COVID-19 Summer Food Fund to support schools and families during this difficult time while schools were restricted from opening to all pupils. Our national voucher scheme supplier, Edenred, have reported that over £380 million worth of voucher codes had been redeemed into supermarket eGift cards by families through the scheme as of 19 August. Over 20,350 schools had placed orders for the scheme as of 28 July. Now schools and their kitchens are open, normal free school meal provision has resumed, enabling children to have a nutritious healthy meal at school. As set out in our guidance, schools are able to support pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals who have to remain at home due to self-isolation with food parcels. Our latest guidance for schools is set out here:

While schools were restricted from opening to all pupils, we continued to support families in recognition of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for schools during this time; however, provision for free schools meals is ordinarily term time only and there is no requirement for schools to continue this provision during school holidays.

This summer, our £9 million Holiday Activities and Food Programme worked across 17 local authorities, providing thousands of children with access to healthy meals and enriching activities and building on the success of the 2018 and 2019 programmes. We are currently assessing the scheme in order to ascertain the best way to provide children with activities as well as food during the holiday period. Our 2020 programme will help show how free provision can be coordinated in different local areas and it will provide valuable information about what works in supporting this sector in future. Future policy and spending decisions will be set following completion of the current Spending Review.

The government has put in place a range of support for families. The Department for Work and Pensions have increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by over £1,000 a year for this financial year, benefiting over 4 million households, and increased Local Housing Allowance rates – putting an average of £600 into people’s pockets. Families facing hardship can access the Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant which includes £63 million for local authorities to help those who are struggling financially due to the impact of COVID-19. This will allow authorities to step in and provide discretionary financial help to those facing severe hardship to allow them to pay for food and other necessities. This funding will sit alongside the £6.5 billion extra support the government is already providing through the welfare system to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are protected throughout this crisis. 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 for the most vulnerable people as delivered through charities including FareShare and WRAP.

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