Thousands of Essex school pupils to benefit from extension to free school meals initiative over the summer holidays

More than 32,000 children in Essex will benefit from free school meals over the summer holidays, after a Government U-turn was sparked by a campaign from footballer Marcus Rashford.

The biggest impact will be felt in the constituency of Thurrock, where 3,094 children qualify for free school meals.

As many as 2,704 children qualify for free school meals in Rochford and Southend East, while in South Basildon and East Thurrock 2,643 will qualify.

The government U-turn means that eligible children will qualify for a six-week voucher through the summer. It was going to end at the end of this summer term.

The Government welcomed Mr Rashford’s “contribution to the debate around poverty”.

It is believed his intervention helped sway Tory MPs to heap pressure on the Government to back the move given the amount of opposition it was facing during Labour’s opposition day motion.

The Manchester United forward, 22, said: “Just look at what we can do when we come together.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the move was a “welcome U-turn”.

All children eligible for free school meals in term time in England will benefit from the “Covid summer food fund”, Downing Street said.

The support works out as about £15 a week per recipient, and will cost about £120million.

As many as 1,604 children will qualify in Chelmsford, represented by the children’s minister, who has responsibility for free school meals, Vicky Ford.

Almost 1.3 million schoolchildren in England – accounting for 15.4 per cent of state-educated pupils – were eligible for and claiming free school meals according to the latest available data.

Official figures for 2019 showed the need was greatest in parts of London, the north and the Midlands, where between a quarter and a third of all pupils were getting the free meals.

Responding to the Government’s announcement to extend the free school meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays, Cllr Judith Blake, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “No young person should have to go hungry and ensuring vulnerable pupils, including those on free school meals and with special educational needs and disabilities, are provided for is a top priority for councils and schools.

“We are therefore pleased that the Government has committed to provide this lifeline for many families across the country which will ensure that vulnerable children will not go hungry over the summer holidays.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that listening and working together can lead to policies that have positive outcomes for our most vulnerable communities, including children and young people from low-income families.

“There are an estimated 1.3 million young people entitled to free school meals, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that many more families have signed up to benefits.

“Councils have done an excellent job supporting their communities during the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to work with schools, families and the Government to ensure that children and young people receive the support they need.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter