A welcome shift from the Tories - but has it come too late?
The government has agreed to fund school mean vouchers over the current May bank term, following widespread pressure.
The Schools Minister Nick Gibb confirmed to the Education Select Committee today that “the cost of the voucher scheme will continue to be met by the Department for Education over half term”.
The Department for Education had previously said that there were no plans to provide this support over the May half-term. When challenged by Left Foot Forward at the time, No 10 said it would review the situation. A petition calling for this support to continue has received over 100,000 signatures.
There were fears that thousands more children would go hungry this half term, after the government initially announced it would not be funding free meal vouchers during the May break.
The government had provided the vouchers – which go to low-income families and those on benefits – over the Easter holidays. But officials said the vouchers were only for term-time, meaning parents would be without the extra £15 a week support at the end of the month.
However, to distribute school vouchers over this bank holiday, hard-pressed schools were under the impression they had to fund them out of their own pocket – meaning they may not have been ordered in time for today’s government announcement.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, welcomed the u-turn – but said it may have come too late:
“Labour has always supported families accessing free school meals over half-term, but announcing this U-turn during the week itself is far too late.
“Families have been extremely worried that they would not be able to feed their children properly this week as a result of the Government’s initial reluctance. The fact that a petition of over 100,000 signatures was needed shows how much worry and confusion this has caused.
“Food poverty is sadly on the rise in this crisis. Free school meals are the only proper meal that some children get, so it is vital that they continue to be funded.”
There will now be pressure for the vouchers to continue during the summer holiday, given the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis on families.
The voucher scheme – run by contractor Edenred – has been ridden with problems, including late major delays in distributing them and problems accessing the online system.
Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
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