Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 4:18 pm, 16th June 2020

This is where we need to drive things further, to build up layer upon layer of support for children who are not in school to make sure that they are constantly learning, that they do not fall behind and that they constantly move forward in their education and benefit from the world-class education we have in this country.

Many schools have done an amazing job of keeping free school meals going through either food collections or deliveries. Where schools were unable to do that, we set up the national free school meals voucher. That scheme was established at pace, and over £150 million-worth of vouchers have been redeemed through it.

Alongside the voucher scheme, we continue to provide schools with all their expected funding, including funding to cover free school meals, and most schools right across the country have continued provision in school for those children who are most vulnerable. On top of that, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has provided an additional £63 million for local authorities to help those who are struggling financially to pay not just for food but for other necessities at this incredibly difficult time.

Although many children are now returning to school thanks to the outstanding efforts of hard-working teachers and all those who work in schools, we are not yet out of this crisis. In schools, homes, workplaces and, above all, the NHS, people up and down the country are still making extraordinary sacrifices to overcome this deadly disease.

Free school meals have always been a term-time provision, and that is what they should be, but while we are in extraordinary times, we must not be bound by the constraints of what normally happens. A Government should always listen to the people who need them most. I would like to extend my particular thanks to Marcus Rashford for using his public position to amplify the voices of those who must and should be heard. By speaking out for the less fortunate and raising the phenomenal total of over £20 million in just a few days, he represents the best of Britain and is a role model for all the children who look up to him for inspiration.

We should never be ashamed to listen. I am pleased to announce that we will provide additional funding for a covid summer food fund, to enable children who are eligible for free school meals to claim a six-week voucher. As we prepare for schools to reopen fully in September, we will ensure that no child goes hungry. As we move forward, we will continue to do all we can to support disadvantaged children through not just free school meals but a long-term and sustained programme of catch-up activities, to close the educational gap, which has widened during this period, and ensure that every child in this country can achieve their full potential. We are finalising those plans, and I will shortly be in a position to outline them to the House. We will not be moving our amendment, and I commend this motion to the House.