Eddie Mair 4pm - 7pm
Coronavirus: Food vouchers issued to children entitled to free school meals while at home
31 March 2020, 00:02
Families of children entitled to free school lunches will receive a weekly shopping voucher to spend at supermarkets while they are at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
The vouchers - for £15-a-week for each eligible child – will be valid at a range of shops including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.
It is estimated that 1.3 million pupils are currently entitled to free meals.
The sum has been set above the £11.50 currently paid to schools for the cost of providing free meals to compensate for families not buying in bulk.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said schools across England are being invited to join the scheme to ensure those families most in need of support get the help they need.
He said that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were also being given the chance to sign up.
Mr Williamson said: “I recognise that the unprecedented action this Government is taking to protect the country from coronavirus, including closing schools, is affecting the lives of many families.
“I want to thank schools for the support they are continuing to provide to families during such uncertain times.
“No child should go hungry as a result of the measures introduced to keep people at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
“That’s why we are launching this scheme to make sure children who usually benefit from free school meals still have access to healthy and nutritious meals while they are not attending school.”
He added: "I really hope that this is something taken up by most schools. I think this will be a real big help to so many families.
"We are living in extraordinary times at the moment. It's really important that we do everything we can do for families, make sure those children we really want to be able to support and help are getting that support.
"What we are wanting to do is just give schools that extra bit of support, give families that extra bit of support."
Parents will receive the voucher through their child’s school, which can then be redeemed online via a code, or sent to their house as a gift card and used at supermarkets across the country.
Responding to the announcement, Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young Peoples Board, said: “No young person should have to go hungry and ensuring vulnerable pupils, including those on free school meals and with special educational needs and disabilities, are provided for is a top priority for councils and schools.
“The LGA has been calling for a national scheme to avoid each local area setting up its own arrangements, so today’s announcement is good news.
“There are already an estimated 1.3 million young people entitled to free school meals, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that there are now a large number of families signing up to benefits.
“We want to work with the Government to ensure that struggling families are able to access the scheme as soon as possible. The Government should also consider extending to voucher scheme to cover families over the school holidays.”