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Government pledges supermarket vouchers for families with children on free school meals

HOUSEHOLDS with children who receive free school meals will get supermarket vouchers to cover costs of food while schools are shut due to the spread of Covid-19, it was announced today.

The £15-a-week vouchers would be available for each eligible child. An estimated 1.3 million children are entitled to free school meals.

The vouchers can be spent on food at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, but Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he hoped to get all the supermarket chains to join the scheme.

But while education union NEU said it was “relieved” that the government will pay costs incurred by schools to provide meals for children at home, it hopes the government will also cover “hidden costs.”

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said it is disappointing that the government has chosen not to make sure that free school meals vouchers are available over Easter.

He said: “This isn’t a normal school holiday, and we are asking teachers and support staff to volunteer to work, in support of the NHS.

“Families on low incomes will need access to school meals during this fortnight, particularly as foodbanks are seriously overstretched and it is much harder to shop affordably at the moment.

“Recent government statistics showed that 4.2m children are trapped in poverty — this is likely to rise when the current public-health crisis subsides.

“Food vouchers might be the only realistic and manageable intervention for many schools at the moment, but we mustn’t normalise the idea of food provision to poorer families.

“We must banish food poverty once the health crisis is over, through better wages and secure employment.”

The vouchers have been set above the £11.50 per week paid to schools for the cost of providing free meals to allow for the higher costs incurred by parents compared with school caterers, who buy in bulk.

Once a school in England has joined the scheme, the vouchers will be sent out by email directly to the families by the Department for Education’s voucher supplier Edenred.

Schools can claim on behalf of families that do not have internet access for paper copies to be posted to them.

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland were also being given the chance to sign up, Mr Williamson said.

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