Free school meal vouchers to be extended over the summer after Government U-turn
Children in England who are eligible for free school meals will receive a six-week food voucher to cover the summer holiday period, after a high-profile campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Government says 1.3 million children in England will benefit from its Covid Summer Food Fund. The food vouchers will be worth £15 per week per eligible child.
It had previously said that its food voucher scheme, which has been available while schools are largely closed during the coronavirus pandemic, would not continue over the summer.
Under current arrangements for free school meal vouchers, schools either arrange for meals or food parcels to be delivered to eligible families, or provide a supermarket voucher worth £15 a week for each eligible child.
See our Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown guide for more info on support available for families.
How does the school voucher scheme work?
Families with children who qualify for school meals (Gov.uk has eligibility criteria) can receive support during the coronavirus pandemic in all areas of the UK, though what's available depends on where you live.
At the moment in England, the Government has asked schools to speak to catering teams or providers to see if they can arrange for meals or food parcels to be delivered to or collected by eligible families.
If this isn't possible, you should be given a supermarket voucher worth £15 a week for each eligible child, to allow you to buy food. Your school will email you a code, which you can redeem for an e-gift card of your choice – available for supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose – or it will select the gift card for you, print it and post it to you. You then show the gift card at the till, digitally or printed out.
It's understood that eligible families will now be given a voucher at the end of term covering the six weeks of the summer holiday, again worth £15 per week.
The Government's U-turn only affects schools in England, but Scotland and Wales have already announced that free school meal support will continue over the summer holidays. Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has also said she will propose an extension to free school meal support over the holidays.
There's full info on the different approaches across the UK in our Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown guide.
What does the Government say?
The Prime Minister's official spokesperson said: "Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the Prime Minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.
"To reflect this, we will be providing a Covid Summer Food Fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period. This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic.
"The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals."
He also acknowledged Rashford's campaign, saying: "The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues."
Additional reporting by PA Media.