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Government rules out summer school meal vouchers for disadvantaged children

June 10, 2020 8:16 AM
Originally published by East Suffolk Liberal Democrats


Boris Johnson's spokesman says that the school meal voucher scheme will not run over the summer. childpoverty

According to reports in The Independent, Lawyers for food charity Sustain have sent a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson demanding urgent clarification of what measures he will take to prevent "holiday hunger" and warning of court action if his response was not adequate.

The government introduced a £15-a-child weekly supermarket voucher scheme to ensure that around 1.3 million youngsters eligible for free meals continued to get them while schools are closed, and after public pressure the programme was extended over the Easter holiday and half-term.

Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny said: "Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have heard more and more stories of families with children struggling to put food on the table due to having too little money. The situation has got worse as parents lose jobs and income.

"Hundreds of thousands of children have gone without food and many food banks and local authorities have told us they cannot keep up with the avalanche of demand for emergency food aid.

"Hunger has no respect for term-time dates. Throughout lockdown, Sustain and many others have repeatedly called on the government to guarantee that vulnerable children get the food they need, including over the long summer holiday. We have tried everything we can think of to secure every child's right to food, yet this week the government said it has no plans to help the majority of vulnerable children over the summer.

The scheme has been dogged by problems and controversy since it started in March and comes as the Trussell Trust said that food banks in their network saw an 89% increase in need in April compared to the same period last year, with a staggering 107% increase in emergency food parcels for children.

The government handed a three month contract valued at up to £234m to French-owned Edenred under emergency powers without a competitive tendering process, to feed more than a million pupils eligible for free school meals. The company which has been accused of "woeful" preparation and left children going hungry and parents humiliated.

Vouchers provided by Edenred to buy food in shops are obtained via email but the firm's website was initially overwhelmed, leaving desperate parents unable to log on and provoking fury among headteachers, who urged the government to intervene.

In April, Sky News reported that senior teachers claimed that parents were being left in limbo over how to feed their children because the government's free meals voucher scheme has been a "disaster". Initially, the DfE promised schools that parents would receive codes to obtain vouchers online on the same day as schools applied for them, but teaching staff were told that orders had to be placed "four calendar days before the due date". An investigation by Schools Week last month found that some parents phoned schools in tears after being made to wait two weeks for vouchers.

Then in May the government was forced into a last minute U-turn to fund free school meal vouchers during the May half-term break. The Department for Education had previously said it had "no plans" to fund vouchers over this holiday period causing worry and confusion to families living in poverty but Schools minister Nick Gibb revealed that the government had changed its mind on the Friday before half term but it wasn't until midway through the one-week half-term when many in the sector first heard of the U-turn.

The government have pointed to a separate £9 million holiday activities and food programme for disadvantaged children however this will only cover a small proportion of those currently eligible for vouchers. Sustain said the alternative scheme covered just 50,000 children from low-income families - 4 per cent of those benefiting from free school meals in England.

A coalition of anti-poverty charities said, 'Although recent measures brought in by our government have helped some people stay afloat, it's clear that more support needs to put in place. We're calling on the government to do more to protect people from being swept into destitution'.

The Trussell Trust said, 'Poverty isn't inevitable. Needing to use a food bank isn't inevitable. In the last few weeks, we've seen how quickly the government can act to take emergency measures to ensure people can access support during this crisis. We know change is possible. Together, we have the power to come together and make a difference'. You can find more detail on the Trussell Trust website.


Sources: Guardian 4 June 2020 Andrew Woodcock
Government may face legal action after ruling out free school meal vouchers for disadvantaged children this summer

Guardian 7 May 2020 Rob Davies £234m contract to feed 1.3m children was given to Edenred, accused of 'woeful' preparation

Schools Week https://schoolsweek.co.uk/dfe-u-turn-on-half-term-free-meal-vouchers-is-far-too-late

Sky News 26 April Parents left in limbo over how to feed their children