The government has confirmed that the scheme providing shopping vouchers to families that qualify for free school meals will be extended over the two-week Easter holidays.
Teaching unions have today welcomed the government’s decision to provide financial help to families eligible for free school meals (FSM) over the Easter holidays.
Last week government ministers announced that qualifying families would be able to claim shopping vouchers worth £15 per week per child during term time. Now the scheme will be extended in England to also cover the two-week Easter holiday period.
Unions said the extension will help to prevent children from going hungry, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Commenting on the announcement, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:
The NEU welcomes Ministers’ announcement that they will pay for the national voucher scheme to operate over the Easter holidays to ensure all children who get free school meals are fed.
This has been an issue of concern for our members and we are pleased to see that the Government has listened to the NEU and others who have asked for FSM to be available throughout the holidays.
It will be important to get the message out this week that children who qualify for FSM are covered by the national voucher scheme during the Easter holiday period.
Parents who did not previously qualify for free school meals but whose income has reduced or stopped due to the Coronavirus crisis may qualify based on their new financial circumstances. Parents and carers should check local authority websites for how to apply.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said that he was pleased that the government is “taking action in support of the most vulnerable children”, adding:
We know that for many children, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day and, in some cases, their only meal full stop.
The government is doing the right thing in stepping forward and making sure all children can continue to access the food they need.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
Many struggling families will be finding it even harder than normal to make ends meet in the current emergency and with children at home for a long period.
The extension of the voucher scheme will make a real difference in helping to alleviate the risk of children going hungry.
We are particularly concerned about the impact of a prolonged shutdown of schools on these young people and their families, and are keen to work with the government on examining the full implications and what more support can be provided to them.
Families that qualify for free school meals will be issued with an electronic voucher or gift card worth £15, which can be used at major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.
Around 1.3 million children in England are currently eligible for free school meals and, until now, schools across the country had been making their own arrangements regarding meals.