June 05, 2020
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Fresh Calls For Free School Meals In Summer As 23% Of Pupils Miss Out In Covid-19 Crisis
Ministers are facing fresh pressure to extend school meal vouchers to the summer holidays after new figures suggested nearly a quarter of the poorest pupils have missed out on help during the Covid-19 crisis.
Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson have been urged by charities and teaching unions to reverse a decision to end the £15-a-week food subsidy for 1.3 million pupils when English schools officially break up in July.
No.10 sparked a backlash on Thursday when it confirmed that the current voucher system, which allows disadvantaged parents to spend money in supermarkets, would not continue over the summer holidays despite many families being more cash-strapped than ever.
In contrast, the Welsh government has pledged to provide its £19.50 per child per week funding for free school meals throughout the summer.
Rob Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Commons education select committee, urged ministers to rethink their plans as campaigners threatened a crowdfunded legal action against the Department for Education.
His remarks came as the Food Foundation food campaign released a new survey* showing that 23% of children who normally receive free school meals had not been offered any substitute such as a voucher or food parcel since schools were closed by the lockdown in March.
The 23% figure suggesting as many as 370,00 children may have missed out on state aid to which they are entitled, the campaign said.
Some 58% have been offered a free school meal substitute at home, and 16% were reported to be attending school and receiving free school meals there, according to the survey conducted late last month of more than 4,000 parents.
The campaign also estimates that parents of two million children have experienced “food insecurity”, with more than 200,000 children having had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access help during lockdown.
The Food Foundation says that food banks have been inundated with requests for help from parents currently unable to get free school meal support.
The school voucher scheme was introduced soon after schools closed in March and was aimed at providing nutrition for those eligible for free meals. After pressure from MPs and others, it was extended to cover the Easter holiday and the late May break.
Some economists estimate that the cost of extending the system over the six-week summer holiday would come to roughly £100m, a fraction of the total help the government is giving to workers and companies to get them through the Coronavirus crisis.
Halfon tweeted that ministers should now reconsider their decision because “1. Free school meals needed over Summer especially if there are catch-up summer schools 2. Families struggling as furlough lessens, jobs/ redundancy 3. All stats show well fed children mean better learning’.Important that @educationgovuk@hmtreasury@vickyford reconsider this. 1. Free school meals needed over Summer especially if there are catch-up summer schools 2. Families struggling as furlough lessens, jobs/ redundancy 3. All stats show well fed children mean better learning https://t.co/IAKXZkh5Vh— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) June 5, 2020Around 3 million children are at risk of 'holiday hunger'.To boost the life chances of these children, we must do all we can to ensure they are properly fed and supported during holidays.Today I’ve urged the Govt to extend the free school meals scheme over the summer holidays pic.twitter.com/qg4dgY6j7n— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) June 5, 2020No.10 has pointed instead to its £9m plan to provide a programme of holiday activities and food for 50,000 children from low-income families, but critics point out that would be equivalent to just 4% of the number of children eligible for free school meals in England.
Eligibility for free school meals includes those on Income Support and Universal Credit, claims for which are expected to soar as more people are left unemployed by the coronavirus impact on the economy.
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of the food charity Sustain 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. Taking legal action is a last resort, but the time has come. Hungry children in lockdown cannot march to Parliament to demand their rights, so this is why we’re speaking up with and for them.”
A petition to extend the vouchers, started by 16-year-old free school meals pupil Christina from London, has gathered more than 180,000 signatures.
She said: “Imagine how those of us who rely on free school meal support felt when we heard they will be taken away from us during the summer holidays. It’s time to bite back.”
Jolyon Maugham, director of The Good Law Project, said: “The government still has not come up with a decent plan to ensure kids don’t go hungry. If they don’t, we will take formal legal action.”
Tim Morfin, chief executive of children’s charity Transforming Lives for Good, told HuffPost UK: “This is an issue that is not just specific to Covid-19, but we urgently need a permanent policy response that provides for children on free school meals over every school holiday.” 
The Department for Education failed to comment on the figures suggesting pupils were already missing out on the current voucher scheme.
A spokesperson said: “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. The national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.”
 
*The Food Foundation conducted its survey from 21-26 May from a total sample of 4,376 adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults/Related... Brexit Talks End With No Progress As EU Insists: 'We Can't Go On Like This' This Face Cover Sock Hack Is So Simple – But Is It Effective? UK Coronavirus Deaths Top 40,000 As At Least 142 More Fatalities Confirmed
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