I care deeply about ensuring that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get free school lunches. I even voted against my own Government to try and get policy changed on extending free school meals. I am glad that the Government has subsequently acted to:
- Expand the Holiday Activities and Food programme in every local authority in 2021, worth £220 million,
- Increased Healthy Start voucher payments (for pregnant women and/or mothers with children under 4 in receipt of welfare support) from £3.10 to £4.25 a week
- Given local authorities emergency funding to provide food and other essentials for vulnerable families during the pandemic (including the £120 million Covid Summer Food Fund and £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme)
- Given £16 million to frontline charities to provide meals to those in need during Covid-19.
Whilst children are at home, the Government has increased the money given to schools to supply free school lunches by £3.50, recognising the additional cost of provision for pupils at home. Schools are able to claim up to £15 per week per eligible pupil to cover costs.
I was dismayed to read yesterday that some companies used by schools to supply food parcels had been, in essence, ripping off schools, families and the taxpayer. The truth of this is that schools can work with their school catering team or have their own contracts with suppliers to provide lunch parcels. The Government guidance on lunch parcels is very strict, stating that the parcels should contain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches for their child/children across the week.
In a meeting I had last night with the Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford MP, she confirmed that schools can either have food parcels delivered or use their own local voucher scheme and, if neither is possible, there will be a new national voucher scheme, similar to the one that existed in the first lockdown.
I want to thank all the teachers and support staff who are doing everything possible not only to keep our children learning but also fed, whilst schools are closed. These companies that the schools have relationships with should not have let them down in this way. In my view, these providers should be named and shamed because there is no excuse for it, given the extra money that the Government has put in to ensure children are properly fed. Thankfully, this issue is not widespread and I have already been in touch with the parents who have contacted me about problems with their free school meal parcels and contacted the schools for any issues to be resolved.
Moreover, as elected Chair of the Education Select Committee in the House of Commons, I questioned the Secretary of State for Education this morning, and my first question to him was to confirm that no child should go hungry or denied a proper, nutritious free school lunch. He made clear this was completely unacceptable.