Thank you for writing to me regarding the provision of free school meals and support for vulnerable children and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am delighted to say that children and families will get extra support this winter, with councils given new funding to ensure vulnerable households do not go hungry or without essential items.
Building on the significant support given to the most vulnerable during the pandemic, a new £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be run by councils in England. The funding 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. Local Authorities will receive the funding at the beginning of December.
This will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as providing food for children who need it over the holidays. Local councils understand which groups need support, and are best placed to ensure appropriate holiday support is provided – which is why they will distribute the funds, rather than schools, who will continue providing meals for disadvantaged children during term-time.
The Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has provided healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, will also be expanded across England next year. It will cover Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021, and will cost up to £220m. It will be available to children in every local authority in England, building on previous programmes – including this summer’s, which supported around 50,000 children across 17 local authorities.
Healthy Start scheme payments are also set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from next April. 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. This will help people boost the long-term health of their children.
The Government has also pledged additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities, like Fare Share. Conversations about funding allocation are currently in progress.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”
“We know this has been a challenging time for many and we have consistently supported the lowest-paid families, protecting 9 million jobs with furlough and boosting welfare support by £9.3 billion. This package builds on that support and by extending our successful Holiday Activities and Food programme as well as funding a £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme, we are making sure families get the help they need.”
The Government has acknowledged that school holidays can be difficult for some families, with children at risk of missing out on healthy meals, activities, and learning opportunities. For example, learning loss over summer accounts for almost two-thirds of the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children by age 14. For this reason, up to £220m is being invested in the Holiday Activities and Food programme, with disadvantaged children able to get healthy food and take part in fun enriching activities over summer, Christmas and Easter in 2021.
Ministers have also taken unprecedented measures during the pandemic to protect the most vulnerable, and put in place a strong package of financial support to help families and children. These measures include:
• Protecting millions of jobs and livelihoods through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employed Income Support Scheme, which have been extended until March.
• Increasing Universal Credit and Tax Credits by up to £20 a week this year.
• £63m for councils to provide emergency assistance to families, pensioners and the most vulnerable with food, essentials and meals.
• Extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools closed during lockdown.
• Increasing Local Housing Allowance rates for Universal Credit and housing benefit claimants, so it covers the lowest 30% of local rents – benefiting over 1 million households by on average £600 this year.
I am delighted to announce that £2,181,024.15 has been made available to support vulnerable children and families in Derbyshire this Winter.
The Covid Winter Grant Scheme will see councils across England share £170 million in additional, ring-fenced funding, to help vulnerable families and individuals, with Derbyshire County Council receiving £2,181,024.15. This will prevent children from going hungry this winter and ensure local families get the help they need. It builds on the £63 million already provided to councils this year to assist those struggling to buy food and essentials.
No child should ever go hungry, and the extra £2,181,024.15 for Derbyshire County Council will ensure local families that need extra support with food and bills this winter can access it, which is very welcome news.
I'm also pleased that the Prime Minister has announced the extension of the Holiday Activities and Food programme, which provides healthy food and activities for children during the school holidays and has a massive impact on disadvantaged young people in our community, to cover Easter, Summer and Christmas next year.
Investing in children's future is central to the government's mission to level up and extend opportunity across the country, and with this additional support we can prevent the hunger we know is so damaging to a child's life chances. To support people during this challenging time, the government has invested more than £200 billion to protect people's jobs and incomes through the furlough scheme, grants for the self-employed and other support for business and a £9.3 billion injection to strengthen the welfare safety net this year.