Food Poverty: Children

Department for Education written question – answered on 25th November 2021.

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

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, (a) what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the Government's steps to end child food poverty and (b) if he will make it his policy to expand free school meals eligibility to include more children.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

This government is committed to supporting those on low incomes and continues to do so through many measures, such as spending over £111 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2021/22.

As our recovery gathers pace and with record vacancies, our focus is now on continuing to support parents progressing into work. This is because we know that work, particularly where it is full-time, substantially reduces the risks of child poverty and improves long-term outcomes for families and children. Our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, which has recently been expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects.

We recognise that some people may require extra support over the winter as we enter the final stages of recovery, which is why vulnerable households across the country will be able to access a new £500 million support fund to help them with essentials. The Household Support Fund will provide £421 million to help vulnerable people in England with the cost of food, utilities and wider essentials. The Barnett Formula will apply in the usual way, with the devolved administrations receiving almost £80 million (£41 million for the Scottish Government, £25 million for the Welsh Government and £14 million for the Northern Ireland Executive), for a total of £500 million.

To support low income families further, we have increased the value of Healthy Start food vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25, helping eligible low income households buy basic foods like milk, fruit and vitamins. We are also investing over £200 million a year from 2022 to continue our Holiday Activities and Food programme which is already providing enriching activities and healthy meals to children in all English local authorities.

We support over 1.7 million pupils from the lowest income families to concentrate, learn, and achieve in the classroom through the provision of free school meals. An additional 1.3 million infants receive a free meal under the universal infant free school meals policy

Under this government, eligibility for free school meals (FSM) has been extended several times.

In 2018, the government introduced new eligibility criteria for families on Universal Credit, following a consultation in 2017. It was estimated that this will be more generous in its reach by 2022, in comparison to the legacy benefit system. We included generous protections, which mean any family eligible for FSM transitioning to Universal Credit from a legacy benefit will continue to have access to FSM even if they move above the earnings threshold.

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