Politics

Nicola Sturgeon pledges extra £12m to extend free school meals over summer

While Marcus Rashford changed the Government’s mind in England, it only brings the action for starving children in line with Scotland and Wales

Marcus Rashford may have won his battle to ensure kids don’t starve in England – but that just brings the promise to cover free school meals through the summer holidays in line with Wales and Scotland.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon bolstered the commitment made to 175,000 children across Scotland this summer by announcing an extra £12.6 million to help local authorities feed kids.

The number of children receiving free school food has risen by 53,000 in Scotland since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic due to the impact of the pandemic on family incomes and financial circumstances.

Sturgeon’s announcement came just minutes before Westminster caved into Rashford’s demands, promising to put £120m into extending the free school meals voucher scheme to give kids £15 per week over the six-week break.

She said: “Free Schools Meals are currently being made available to around 175,000 children across Scotland, either within local authority premises which are still open or through direct cash payments, supermarket vouchers or the direct supply of meals.

“I can confirm that this provision will be extended throughout the summer holiday period, we know families are under considerable financial pressures and free school meals are a help to many.

“But they are also important to the health and wellbeing of young children.

“So, we will provide £2.6m in funding to local authorities to enable to the continuation of free schools meals, the funding will be allocated in a way to allow local authorities to combine free school meal provision with wider support.”

“In addition to that, we are making £15m of funding available to council to maintain their wider support, particularly the food support for people in severe poverty, people who face other barrier to getting food and people being asked to isolate under the new policies.”

As for the Welsh Government, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams led the way in the UK, announcing in April that children would receive the equivalent of £19.50 a week throughout the summer holidays.

Authorities are taking different approaches with Bridgend offering a weekly food parcel for breakfast and lunch for a child over five days while others have opted for money or vouchers, like Powys.

The Welsh Government also pledged that £33m will be made available for local authorities to continue providing free school meals.

Money for families has been the way to fill the void left by a lack of free school meals in Northern Ireland.

Education Minister Peter Weir introduced the £27 fortnightly payment for every child on March 26.

But it is still unclear whether assistance will continue over the summer – after revealing that £10.7m has been spent to help 101,500 children, Weir admitted that the “money simply isn’t there” to extend the scheme through the holidays.

The scheme was initially not intended to continue into the summer months with a promise that the Department for Communities will work with the Department for Education to tackle holiday hunger instead.

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