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Free School Meals: leaving no child behind in the coronavirus crisis

As this fast moving public health crisis unfolds, Citizens UK and its local chapters have been working with schools to address the government's response and clarify how low income families will be supported as the school closure continues.

We are pleased the government has given clarity on the national voucher scheme for children on free school meals after plans for the scheme were announced on March 18th. This provides firmer information to schools on what can be claimed and who is eligible, our focus is now ensuring that no children fall through the gaps. Two weeks ago we joined Whole Education, Teach First, Fair Education Alliance and Big Education Trust in a joint letter to the Department for Education and supermarket CEO’s calling for urgent action on free school meals.

Yesterday the Tyne and Wear Just Change action team along with Bishop Paul Butler wrote on behalf of member schools and the Tyne and Wear Citizens action team to the Department for Education asking that the department clarify the following:

  • Are there proposals to continue the voucher scheme through school holiday periods?
  • Is the position of immigrant families with no recourse to public funds reflected in the proposals to distribute vouchers?
  • How will the security arrangements for the voucher scheme balance the necessary protections and the ease of access required for families?
  • Will there be any additional ‘passporting’ linked to benefits or applications for support under the Covid-19 response measures?

We have rapidly reviewed this very welcome scheme to see whether those points have been addressed. Whilst we appreciate the swift action to put the scheme into place, we are still concerned about several elements of the scheme, as the lockdown looks set to continue and schools face further disruption.

Our immediate concerns are that:

  • Holiday hunger is not addressed in the voucher scheme. Vouchers will only be provided during term time. The Venerable Bede CE Academy and Ian Ramsey CE Academy of the Dayspring Trust in Tyne and Wear will continue to directly pay lunch money into parents' bank accounts – at an estimated cost of £15,000 for a two week period.
  • Not all families have access to the large supermarkets included in the scheme. We therefore ask that Lidl, Aldi and smaller, local shops such as Co-op and SPAR are included in the scheme as soon as possible.

Over the coming week, we will continue to listen to schools and families and address other concerns around the speed of new applicants' access to free school meals and how children in families with no recourse to public funds can be supported.

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