The original extension of free school meals was in response to the lockdown caused by the pandemic when schools were closed. However, In many cases school staff had to be brought in over this period to provide meals often with extra staff to distribute food to children’s households. This situation has changed and the Government is already supporting the most vulnerable children.
Support packages are focused on all aspects of living, including food, childcare and continued support for those who need it most. The Government has increased overall support in key benefits such as Universal Credit which has been boosted this year as part of a £9.3 billion increase to the welfare system. This means the average household has seen an annual increase of £1,040 which is more than £20 a week. Councils have been given a further £63 million to help those families most in need. As a result of this increased Government funding, 20 local councils have said they will continue to give vulnerable families food vouchers and support these families on an individual basis. Others have put in their own schemes.
John said: "I appreciate the strength of feeling regarding free school meals. We provide a robust safety net, which can help the most vulnerable families cope with the extra pressures over school holidays. I am pleased that we have put social justice at the center of our policies."
For the last 3 years the Government have supported disadvantaged children through our Holiday Activities and Food programme. This summer, the £9 million programme supported around 50,000 children across 17 local authority areas with free healthy meals as well as enriching activities. This year alone each organisation involved delivered at least four weeks of free activities and healthy food during July and August. The Government knows that the long summer break is the time when families most welcome support, but more importantly it is when children will most benefit from engaging activities, so they return to school ready to learn in September. This year we also provided a further £11.8 million to extend our successful Breakfast Club programme, supporting schools in disadvantaged areas.
John added: "I did not come into politics to make life harder for people, However, we must also ensure the policies we introduce are having the intended impacts and reaching those who need them most. As the pandemic continues to evolve, we remain open to additional support measures based on the needs of families who require extra support at the time. This Labour motion did not help the overall situation."