Free school meals to be covered by food vouchers

Children eligible for free school meals will be able to continue receiving food through vouchers for supermarkets and local shops.

The government announced on Wednesday that schools across England would close from Friday afternoon due to the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

To counter fears that children who currently get many of their daily meals through school would go hungry, the Department of Education has said it will cover the costs of food vouchers.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has promised “no child who would ordinarily receive a free school meal” will go without this while their school is closed.

Southend Councillor Anne Jones (Lab), who oversees children and learning, said: “The government has confirmed that the total value of vouchers offered to each eligible child per week will exceed the rate it pays to schools for free school meals, recognising that families will not be buying food in bulk and may therefore incur higher costs.

“The final amounts will be confirmed shortly.

“Schools will be able to order vouchers directly from supermarkets or shops in their communities to be emailed or printed and posted to families, and they will have their costs covered by the Department for Education.

“We are aware that the Department for Education have said that guidance for schools will be published shortly and we are and will continue to work with schools across the borough to help them implement the measures announced.”

The school closures will be applicable for all children except those of key workers, such as NHS staff, police officers and delivery drivers, and also the most vulnerable children who have a social worker or a care plan.

Ms Jones added: “We are expecting more details and advice on what constitutes a key worker to be issued by the cabinet office later today and will work on our local response to this with our colleagues in schools accordingly.

“We understand that families, teachers and school employees will have many questions and will be understandably worried about the situation, but I would like to reassure everyone that we will continue to do all we can to support those affected and will share more information as and when it becomes available.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter