Grahame Morris MP has made representations to the Secretary of State for Education, following the government’s announcement that it would not be extending the free school meals voucher programme over the summer holiday period.
As it stands, the programme provides families with £15 a week per child to spend in supermarkets. However, on 3rd June ministers announced that the scheme, which covers 1.3 million children, would not be extended over the summer holiday. This is despite the government having previously extended it to cover the Easter holiday and the May half-term.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has also written to the Chancellor, describing the decision not to extend the scheme as ‘uncaring and lacking in compassion.’
In a letter co-ordinated by Emma Lewell-Buck MP, MPs condemn the government’s plans to implement a much smaller programme of holiday activities and food for 50,000 children from low-income families. MPs point out that this new programme is a continuation of a pilot programme offered in previous summers, wherein only 11 areas received funding out of the 92 that applied. This meant that, in the areas that were unsuccessful, local organisations and volunteers were left to depend on charitable donations and fundraising to feed the excluded children. The proposed new scheme would only cover 4% of the number of children eligible for free school meals in England.
The letter cites research published by The Food Foundation which showed that, at the beginning of May, five million people in UK households with children have experienced food insecurity, after just a month of lockdown. It also found that the level of food insecurity in households with children has doubled compared with last year. Furthermore, over 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access sufficient food during lockdown.
MPs are asking that the Secretary of State:
– Above all else, ensure that every family has an adequate income to afford food of sufficient quantity and nutritional quality.
– Continue the Free School Meal Vouchers or extend the Department’s Holiday Activities and Food programme across the whole country throughout the summer period, to guarantee every child’s access to nutritious meals during the holidays.
A briefing published by the North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) shows that the new proposals could be a particular concern for the North East.
The NECPC is a network of organisations from different sectors across the region dedicated to building support for actions that improve the lives of children and young people growing up in poverty in the North East.
It states that:
– The North East has experienced the starkest increase in (before housing costs) child poverty rates over the last five years, and which saw the (JSA/UC) claimant count rise to 9% in April 2020.
– Action for Children recently calculated that 71% of children in the North East were living in families with no – or little – savings to shield them from the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, the highest percentage of any part of the country.
– The North East already had the highest proportion of pupils in receipt of FSM of any English region, at both primary and secondary age1 – with more than 80,000 pupils receiving this support across the North East – even before the impact of Covid-19 on household budgets.
The briefing explains that ‘the areas successful in bidding for summer 2020 funds are still to be publicly announced, but a written answer earlier this year confirmed that – for a £9million, England-wide pot – DfE received a total of 62 bids worth £41.1million, nine of which (worth £6.3million) came from the North East. As it stands, almost all North East local authority areas will therefore miss out on a scheme that is currently intended to benefit around 50,000 children and young people across the whole of England – meaning that the overwhelming majority of the 80,000+ pupils in receipt of FSM in the North East will not receive support over the summer.’
Grahame Morris MP said, “It is vital that the government extends the free school meals voucher scheme to cover the summer holiday period. The impact of the pandemic is not confined to term-time, and the replacement programme that has been proposed will only serve to worsen food insecurity. As families and children in the North East look set to be particularly affected by this, I urge the Secretary of State for Education to consider our concerns.”