Local councils forced to step in to provide free school meals over February half term
A series of clashes over the last six months have each ended with the Government agreeing to provide free school meals for those who need them during school holidays, despite initially saying they wouldn’t.
During a recent announcement about schools remaining closed beyond the February half term, the Prime Minister said he hoped it would be safe to have children back in schools in England from 8 March.
Will there be some support for poorer families?
Mr Johnson said that those children eligible for free school meals will receive them until they return to school.
However, the scheme will not be extended during the February half term, with local councils instead being asked to rely on a separate pot of money which had been earmarked for other purposes.
Councils in many parts of the country will be able to provide vouchers or meals to some struggling families, however this will be funded out of the Government’s Covid Winter Support Grant Scheme.
Critics of the Government’s approach argue that the Winter Support scheme will not be sufficient to make sure every child that needs support receives it, as it does not provide for £15 per head vouchers.
The Government's own guidance states that the Covid Winter Support Grant scheme “is not intended to replicate or replace free school meals and authorities should avoid duplicating provision where possible”.
‘Letting down our children again’
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, criticised the Government, saying that “children should not be in this situation yet again”.
She continued: “The Prime Minister condemned the disgraceful food parcels that hungry children have been given, yet now he is planning to leave them without free school meals
“The government voted against free school meals in October, had to be shamed into extending the support over the Christmas holidays and now they are letting down our children again.”
Ms Rayner, who was reliant on free school meals herself as a child, said “we should not even be having this discussion. Instead of dragging their feet and leaving millions of families in the lurch again the government must make sure that no child goes hungry this half term”.