Free School Meals

Department for Education written question – answered on 26th May 2020.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that (a) food parcels, (b) national vouchers, (c) local vouchers and (d) cash payments in respect of free school meals are accessible to all children.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he plans to take to extend the free school meals voucher scheme.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

As both my right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19.

During this period, we are asking schools to support children who are eligible for and claiming benefits-related free school meals, by providing meals or food parcels through their existing food providers wherever possible. However, we recognise that food parcel arrangements may not always be possible and so at the end of March we launched a national voucher scheme as an alternative option. This provides schools with additional flexibility to decide what is best for families in their schools.

Schools are best placed to determine the most appropriate and accessible local arrangements for their eligible pupils. We understand that alternative approaches to the national voucher scheme, such as providing food parcels or purchasing vouchers for local shops not in the national scheme, may mean that schools incur additional costs. We have published guidance on the financial support available for schools who incur these additional costs in this way. This guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-schools.

Our national voucher scheme supplier Edenred has reported that over £101.5 million worth of voucher codes has been redeemed into supermarket eGift cards by schools and families through the scheme as of Friday 22 May.

As schools prepare to open more widely, they should speak to their school catering team or food providers to ensure that they are supported to return to school to provide meals for those children attending.

Our latest guidance for schools on free school meals provision during this period is set out here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools.

These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

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