Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
A government scheme to provide free school meal vouchers for poor pupils will not be extended to cover this summer’s holiday period, No.10 has revealed.
The £15-a-week vouchers can be used in local supermarkets by parents of children who would normally have received a free lunch but have been forced to stay at home during the Covid crisis.
Following pressure from teaching unions and charities, the Department for Education extended funding to cover the Easter break and recent half term to help hard-pressed families coping with lost income during the pandemic.
But Downing Street has now revealed that the scheme will come to an end when the summer holidays begin.
The move sparked a swift backlash, with Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeting “kids don’t suddenly stop being hungry just because it’s the summer holidays, Boris Johnson”.
Around 1.3 million children are eligible for the meal vouchers, which are given to most parents on universal credit, income support, income based employment and support allowance, income-based job seekers allowance or child tax credit.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The voucher scheme will not run over the summer.”
He stressed that a separate project, that allows local areas to bid for funds for summer holiday activity and meals clubs, could be expanded instead,.
“A £9 million holiday activities and food programme will offer activities and meals to thousands of disadvantaged children during the summer break.
“We are keeping this scheme under review to consider whether it needs to be extended further.”
But the Feeding Britain charity said that only a handful of areas benefited from the holiday programme and it should be rolled out to ensure every child in need had access to a meal in the summer.
Andrew Forsey, national director, told HuffPost UK: “Absent from all the recent reports, around the Government’s plans to help disadvantaged children over the summer holiday, has been any mention of how these plans will safeguard every child’s access to nutritious food.
“Now the voucher scheme is reaching its conclusion, we need the government to extend its holiday activities and food scheme across the whole country. That is the only remaining option for protecting every child from hunger and malnutrition.”
Labour’s shadow minister for early years Tulip Siddiq said: “Free school meals have been a lifeline for struggling families in this crisis.
“Withdrawing them over what is set to be a very difficult summer is a terrible decision.”