Thousands of Norfolk families to get school meal voucher scheme food boost
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Thousands of Norfolk children eligible for free school meals are to benefit from a national voucher scheme which will allow them to keep getting them while they are at home.
The move was hailed as a lifeline, given that some struggling families are dependent upon those meals and the closure of schools to all but key workers will have pushed up their shopping bills.
But the government announced every eligible child will get a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 which can be spent at supermarkets while schools are shut.
Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access.
The vouchers can be spent on food at a range of shops including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S, with the Department for Education working to get more shops to join the scheme as soon as possible.
Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Norfolk-based Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), which supports young people, said: “Free school meals are lifelines for families in poverty and it is a huge benefit to those at school getting a good meal when not at home.
“There is a lot of pressure for families at this time. It is more stressful if siblings are sharing rooms and there is not a garden to play in – being at school is a really good thing.
“It is good that the government has thought about access to meals and it is amazing what you can achieve in a short time.
“The biggest challenge is doing things quickly and without a trial so we will have to wait for feedback from families to see how it works, but I’m sure it will be welcomed.”
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We welcome this clarity from the government on how it will be ensured that all children eligible for free school meals will be able to access their entitlement.
“The council is already working with schools and partners around the supply, logistics and processes around free school meals.
“We will now expand this work to support schools in rolling out this new voucher scheme to all those eligible for it.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “No child should go hungry as a result of the measures introduced to keep people at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
“That’s why we are launching this scheme to make sure children who usually benefit from free school meals still have access to healthy and nutritious meals while they are not attending school.”
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