The Government has announced a package of support for disadvantaged families over the holidays following criticism of an earlier decision not to extend free school meals to the holidays.
The Government has announced a new £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme for England after pressure from the footballer Marcus Rashford over its refusal to extend free school meals across the holidays.
The new funding, to be distributed by councils, will be ring-fenced, with at least 80% earmarked to support with food and bills and will cover the period to the end of March 2021. Local authorities will receive the funding at the beginning of December 2020.
The Government says it will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays. It adds that local councils understand which groups need support.
The grant scheme will be followed by an expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme across England, covering the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays at a cost of up to £220m.
The Government says Healthy Start scheme payments are also set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from next April, 2021.
This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. The Government has also pledged additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities, with conversations with FareShare and others ongoing as to how this is allocated.
After Commons debates where Conservative MPs argued against extending school meals to cover the school holidays, saying there was enough money in the system to help families, the Government now says that it acknowledges that school holidays “can be difficult for some families”, adding that “learning loss over summer accounts for almost two-thirds of the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children by age 14”. Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals in the holidays – based on his own experience as a child – stepped up following the Parliamentary debates and cafes up and down the country rallied to provide free meals during half term. Rashford has welcomed the u-turn.