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FREE SCHOOL MEALS: Those eligible in Northumberland will receive food vouchers for half-term

FREE SCHOOL MEALS: Those eligible in Northumberland will receive food vouchers for half-term

Young people eligible for free school meals in Northumberland will receive food vouchers over the half-term break, the county council has confirmed.

The provision of food for those on free school meals has been an almost constant talking point during the pandemic, with the latest row relating to provision over the school holidays at February half-term.

The Department for Education guidance states that ‘schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term’ as there is ‘wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme’.

But this stance has faced criticism from teachers’ unions, while the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said that the Government should provide vouchers so the winter grant scheme is available for other uses.

Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s resources board, said: “During the last full national lockdown, the Government recognised the significant extra pressures on low-income families and extended free school meal provision into the school holidays.

“The Government was explicit that the Covid Winter Grant Scheme was not intended to replicate or replace free school meals, but was to enable councils to support low-income households, particularly those at risk of food poverty, as we moved towards economic recovery.”

However, Northumberland County Council has said it will be using that funding in order to ensure pupils in need can continue to receive food vouchers over the half-term break.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director for children’s services, said: “The council will continue to offer schools the use of the online voucher system it has in place as part of the winter grant funding during the February half-term break, as we did during the Christmas break, to ensure all children eligible for free school meals receive support.”

Earlier this week, Northumberland’s Labour Group urged the council and the Government to ‘do the right thing’ to ensure there was continued support.

Cllr Scott Dickinson, the group’s deputy leader and shadow cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This third national lockdown is very tough for many individuals and families and, once again, children are bearing the brunt of it.

“Time and time again, this Government has had to be shamed into providing food for hungry children over school holidays. Stopping free school meals support over half-term will be devastating for many families who are living on the breadline in this pandemic.

“The Prime Minister’s claim to be morally outraged at images of woefully inadequate food parcels will ring hollow for parents who are worried about whether they will be able to put food on the table for their children over half-term.”

Words: Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporter

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