FREE school meals for children is a hotly talked about topic as the UK goes into another lockdown to battle coronavirus.
Here’s the lowdown on free school meals in the pandemic and what your children may be entitled to.
The universal free school meals policy means every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 gets a free school lunchCredit: Alamy
Who is entitled to free school meals in the UK?
Eligibility for free school meals is restricted to children whose parents or carers claim out of work benefits or income support.
Children of all ages living in households on income-related benefits may be eligible, from Government-maintained nurseries right through to sixth forms.
Eligibility varies slightly between England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland because the devolved nations set their own rules.
New claims made from April 2018 in England must come from households earning a maximum income of £7,400 a year after tax, not including any benefits.
Rules are the same in Scotland and Wales, but in Northern Ireland, the household income threshold is £14,000.
Government guidelines over food packages
- A variety of different types of fruit and vegetables, to provide at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables each day. These can be fresh or tinned but it’s best to source versions tinned in water or fruit juice, with no added salt or sugar.
- Some protein foods (such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other non-dairy proteins), to provide a portion of food from this group every day. Meat and fish should be cooked (e.g. cooked ham or chicken slices) or tinned (e.g. tuna, salmon). Consider alternating between different protein foods to provide variety.
- Some dairy and/or dairy alternatives (such as milk, cheese, yoghurt), to provide a portion of food from this group every day.
How do I apply for free school lunches for my kids?
If you qualify for a free school lunch, you must let the local authority know so they can get extra funding from the government.
Simply click here and type in your postcode to be redirected to your local council’s website and apply.
Some councils ask you to contact the school directly.
What’s the latest on free school meals?
With the schools closed due to the majority of pupils due to the pandemic, the Government confirmed eligible pupils who have to stay at home would still receive a meal, covering the week beginning 4 January to the week beginning 8 February.
The Government said: “During the national lockdown, we expect schools to continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home during term time.”
The provisions can vary, with the Government stating food can be delivered either by food parcels, vouchers for a local supermarket or via the Department for Education (DofE) national voucher scheme, which is set to reopen on 18 January 2021.
One woman, called Roadside Mum, shared a snap of the food parcel she received
But there has been outrage this week when snaps circulated on social media, showing the contents of some of the food parcels parents have received.
Marcus Rashford, MBE, called the parcels ‘unacceptable’, and a meeting was held between the DofE and Chartwells, a provider of free school meals packages.
Responding to the backlash, a spokesperson for Chartwells said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not ten days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested. However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.
“Our ten-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children*.
“We are further enhancing our food parcels following the Department for Education’s additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child in line with nutritional guidelines, in addition we welcome the DofE procurement notice for schools issued today.
“We would like to thank Marcus Rashford and the Permanent Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Vicky Ford, for their collaboration as we navigate these difficult times.”
Marcus Rashford shared a snap from a parent showing what they received in their package
What’s the history of free school meals?
The Free School Meals scheme helps children eat healthily while in school.
Many MPs want to see the scheme run beyond term time, but in 2020, Tory MP’s voted against this, with many saying they have “let down” society’s most vulnerable children.
MP’s voted 322 to 261 votes – a majority of 61 – to not provide school meals for the most vulnerable children in society over the upcoming October break.
The Government extended its free school meal voucher scheme through a £120 million Covid Summer Food Fund, following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
It followed a high-profile social media campaign – and spat with Government ministers – by the Manchester United star, who called on the Government to consider the plight of children in poverty.
One of Theresa May’s pre-election pledges, made in the Conservative manifesto, was to scrap universal free school lunches and replace them with a free breakfast.
This would mean that kids in reception, year 1 and year 2 would no longer automatically qualify for free meals.
Theresa May had planned to scrap universal free school lunches and replace them with breakfasts, but the pledge was widely unpopularCredit: Getty Images
However, parents who claim state benefits or are seeking asylum would still have been able to apply.
The Prime Minister’s policy would have saved £4billion a year.
Mrs May was forced to abandon her plans because the policy was widely unpopular – and would never have got through Parliament after the Tories failed to win a House of Commons majority.
Plus a hungry child asked mum why she’d been put on diet as parents reveal abysmal food parcels & Rashford says ‘fix this now’.
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