Less food for free school meal kids in summer scheme
Rising food costs have driven down the value of summer-holiday support for pupils on free school meals.
During the holidays, many councils in England offer vouchers or cash payments to help those eligible.
But DB News research shows 67 of 92 councils have cut or kept their support the same as last year, leading to a drop in value once food inflation, currently 17.3%, is taken into account.
Support has ended in Northern Ireland and varies across Wales and Scotland.
Zoe, from Harlow, Essex, has three children, eight, 10 and 18, all entitled to free school meals during term time and vouchers worth £75 each for the summer holidays.
They received £75 vouchers last year too – but the money buys less now.
The Consumer Prices Index (CPI), the main “headline” measure of inflation, is currently 7.9%.
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But inflation for food and non-alcoholic drinks is 17.3%.
A food shop that would have been £75 last year now costs Zoe £88.
A full-time carer for her husband, she is grateful for the vouchers but says they will cover her food shop for only the first three weeks of the seven-week holiday.
“The vouchers only stretch so far, so I’m up every night with worry,” she says.
“Last year, things had started to go up – but it wasn’t as bad as now.”
The vouchers can be spent only at supermarkets, so this is where Zoe, whose surname Daily Bulletin News has chosen to withhold, does most of her food shopping – switching between shops to make the most of reductions and deals.
She can just about afford to feed her children the same food as last year – but she and her husband now often eat soup made from vegetables she picks up at the local food bank.
“Please don’t ever be embarrassed to go to a food bank,” Zoe says.
“We’re all in the same boat – I never thought I’d go… [but] without them, we’d be in a lot worse situation.”
The funding for this summer’s food vouchers for families in England comes from the £842m Household Support Fund (HSF).
Of the 153 local authorities in England, 92 shared data on the payments and vouchers:
- 10 have given lower payments or vouchers than last year
- 57 have kept the amounts the same
- 25 have increased the value but 10 of those by less than food inflation
Most councils in England also offer a Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme, with events providing childcare, healthy meals and activities for children from low-income families.
The HAF is separate to the HSF and specifically aims to support children eligible for free school meals.
About 600,000 children attended last summer, the Department for Education (DfE) says, more than 475,000 of them eligible for free school meals. But across England, more than two million are eligible.
Tanisha Bramwell had to prioritise children on free school meals when allocating places on her HAF programme, in West Yorkshire, but worries about low-income families not eligible.
“Most of the people who need our support are working families who don’t get vouchers or help in the holidays,” she says.
“I’ve only got funding for 20 places – and we’ve got 70 children on the list.
“My fear is that many children are going to get missed and will be going hungry this summer.”
Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham says: “We’ve reached a low point if it’s hit and miss whether children get the food they need in summer, depending on where they live.”
“The underlying problem is that so many families don’t have enough money to live on year round and that’s on central government – not local authorities – to tackle.”