Social Justice

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?

Here's what you need to know about free school meals and vouchers and whether they're being offered in the UK over the school holidays

Free school meals/ Easter holidays

Children are guaranteed a nutritious, healthy meal with the free school meals scheme. Image: Unsplash

Free school meals are a lifeline for many families living in poverty. The scheme means that the poorest children in the country are guaranteed at least one nutritious hot meal a day. But whether kids get free school meals over the summer holidays depends on where they live.

Campaigners have repeatedly called on the government to expand free school meals. In 2020, footballer Marcus Rashford fought alongside charities and successfully convinced the government to offer meal vouchers over the summer holidays to 1.3 million children in England.

But the government rejected Rashford’s calls to extend the holiday food scheme. So what are the alternatives with the cost of living still on the up? Here’s what you need to know about whether free school meals are being offered over the summer holidays depending on where you’re based in the UK. 

Are free school meals being offered in England over the summer holidays?

The government is not directly funding free school meals in England over the summer holidays, but your child might get meals or vouchers if your council has decided to provide them. 

Many councils across England have decided to create their own meal schemes during the school holidays, financed by the household support fund. This is a grant of £800million distributed between local authorities to help households who need it most.

The household support fund has been extended by six months and is currently due to end in September, although Labour may well choose to continue it.

In Gloucestershire for example, a £15 voucher per week will be funded to cover the summer holiday period per each eligible child. In West Sussex, families are entitled to £50 per child for the six-week holiday period. In Hertfordshire, it’s a £60 voucher.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has continued his support for families on free school meals over the summer holidays. Take Greenwich, where meals are being served up at various locations and there’s no age limits for children – you just turn up and tuck in. And in Wandsworth, it’s a £20 voucher per week.

Check out your council’s website or contact them directly to see what support they offer.

Many councils are relying on the holiday activities and food programme to support low-income families over the summer holidays. This is funded by the government and provides “healthy food and enriching activities” to children who are eligible for free school meals.

Councils are working with a range of organisations to provide free spots on their schemes. 

This could be at a drama group, dance camp, sports club or other play groups. Over summer, all participating children should be offered a minimum of four days of face-to-face provision. Those days should be at least four hours long and eligible children will receive at least one free, nutritious meal each day. 



Are free school meals available in Scotland over the school holidays?

Some councils across Scotland are offering free school meal payments to low-income families over the school holidays.

Universal free school meals for children in primary one to five are not available over the holidays – you might be able to get free school meals over the school holidays if you have income-based eligibility.

East Lothian Council will pay families £73.60 per child for the school holidays, for example. And Fife pays families £12 per week per child.

You’ll need to check your local council’s website to find out how to apply and the amount that is available will depend on where you live. These payments are typically paid automatically, and you don’t have to contact your council to get the payment.

Can I get free school meals in Wales over the summer holidays?

Free school meals were provided throughout the school holidays in Wales since 2020, but the scheme was cut off in June last year and it has not been continued for the summer holidays either.

Jeremy Miles, minister for education and Welsh Language, said: “The decision not to extend funding into the 2023 summer holidays was not taken lightly by the Welsh government.

“However, as the subsequent comprehensive impact assessment demonstrated, and given that our budget is worth £1.2bn less in real terms than when it was set by UK government in 2021, it would have been unaffordable without having to make significant cuts in other key education budgets.”

Councils in Wales typically used the funds to provide low-income families with meal vouchers, money or packed lunches to cover the full period of the school holidays. But without the additional funding, many will not be able to afford it this summer.

You should check with your local council to see what support may be offered to you.

Are free school meals being offered in Northern Ireland over the summer holidays?

Free school meals will not be provided in Northern Ireland. Last year, the government in Northern Ireland axed “holiday hunger” payments for children entitled to free school meals. 

Families of 96,000 children received payments of £27 every fortnight during the school holidays since 2020. But the scheme has not gone ahead since 2022.

The Department for Education said that “additional ring-fenced funding has ended and therefore school holiday food grants can no longer be made”. Campaigners called this decision “abhorrent”. 

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