Thank you for contacting me about Marcus Rashford's campaign on child food poverty and the recent Opposition day debate on free school meals.
I applaud the work Marcus Rashford has done to highlight the issue of food poverty, and I welcome that his efforts have been recognised with an MBE. The three policy proposals put forward by Mr Rashford's taskforce have been suggested in Part 1 of the National Food Strategy and I know Ministers are carefully considering these proposals. Now that his petition has reached more than 100,000 signatures a response will be issued by the Government in due course.
We all want to do what we can to alleviate child food poverty and as such I am pleased that the Government has taken significant action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.
This has included extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were partially closed, increasing Universal Credit by £20 a week, funding councils to provide emergency food assistance to families, and allocating £63 million to councils for families in hardship. The national free school meals voucher scheme saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families with over 20,000 schools placing orders. Ministers have also deployed the might of the UK Treasury to support families through this difficult period with almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments.
Ministers also took the unprecedented step this year of extending the free school meals programme over the summer holidays as most children had not been in school since March and families had been meeting the extra costs of this. As you will know, provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only, but I think it was right that Ministers recognised the extremely difficult situation families have been put in by coronavirus and took the unprecedented action they did.
I recognise the strength of feeling about this issue. However, we are now in a different position, with our schools back open to all pupils. It is important to remember that free school meals are not a general welfare measure. They are aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability. I believe that the best way to support disadvantaged families who require welfare support, is through Universal Credit, rather than the Government subsidising meals for families in their own homes. A wide range of financial and other support is already available to help families, such as the £9 million summer holiday activities and food programme. This programme also ran over the summer, offering activities and meals to thousands of disadvantaged children.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP