Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about free school meals and the coronavirus pandemic.
Free school meals are an essential lifeline for many families, ensuring that all children can have a nutritious meal. I am pleased that this support is continuing despite schools not operating as normal due to the current crisis.
However, I share the real concern that children will go hungry during this pandemic, in part because of logistical problems with the national food voucher scheme the Government has put in place.
The Government’s national food voucher scheme has allowed schools to continue to provide for those eligible for free school meals where they cannot directly provide food. However, I know that these are accepted by only certain supermarkets and stores when many people only have access to their local convenience store or a more discount supermarket.
Schools are currently able to provide vouchers for local stores where others are not accessible and be reimbursed for this later. However, I think the Government should urgently expand the list of shops that can accept the national food vouchers to include the supermarkets most present in our poorest communities. It is vital that these shops are included in the national food voucher scheme, so our most vulnerable children can get the food they need.
The Government recently met the costs of continuing free school meal provision to eligible pupils during the Easter holidays. However, it has said it currently has no plans to extend the scheme into future holiday periods. This is clearly a time of unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for schools and I believe the Government should keep this situation under close review.
In addition to these issues, I have been contacted by several local schools who have encountered technical problems with the voucher scheme and am working with them to try to get the issues resolved. I have also asked two written parliamentary questions on the subject, which you can read here and here.
I can assure you that my Labour colleague and I will continue to press the Government to resolve issues with the national food voucher scheme and ensure that funding for it is sufficient to provide healthy, nutritious meals for children.