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Government makes a U-Turn on providing Free School Meal Vouchers over Summer Holidays

Children eligible for free school meals (FSM) across the UK will continue to receive provision during the six-week summer holidays, government has announced.  

In England, government has announced a £120 million Covid summer school fund to provide vouchers for the 1.3 million children who qualify for FSM. Shortly afterwards, Scotland committed £12.6 million to provide services for its 175,000 eligible pupils. Northern Ireland confirmed it would also follow suit to continue its scheme over summer, although the funding commitment remains unclear. Wales made an early commitment to continuing provision while students are not at school.

Campaigners have welcomed the decision, which was catalysed by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford adding his voice to the call for a government u-turn on holiday provision. In an open letter to MPs, the 22-year-old footballer drew on the Food Foundation’s data to highlight that 200,000 children have had to skip meals during lockdown and shared his own experience of growing up on free school meals and food banks. 

Originally, DfE had said it would not be continuing the national voucher scheme for FSM-eligible children over the summer break, even though the Welsh government had committed early to supporting vulnerable families until September. 

The announcement has been welcomed by families, schools and campaigners. 

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “We are thrilled that today the government showed it is listening to the real needs of our most vulnerable children. Children’s access to enough nutritious food has long been a serious problem in the UK, and Covid-19 has made the situation much worse: this is not an issue that will go away without an effective long-term response from government. Free school meals are only available to a fraction of children living in poverty, and if we are to prevent millions of young people suffering in future, we must make every child’s right to food an ongoing priority.”

A government spokesperson has said that the measure was a response to the “unique circumstances of the pandemic” and would not continue beyond the summer.

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