Free school meals vouchers to double to £30 per week over Christmas holidays
Ollie Heptinstall, Local Democracy Reporting Service
- Credit: Mehrad Vosoughi / Unsplash
Free school meal vouchers in North Devon are to double in value over the Christmas holidays to £30 per week per child.
Using money from the Government’s household support fund - of which £5 million has been allocated to Devon County Council and its districts - families will now receive a £60 voucher per child for the two-week holiday to help with the additional financial pressures of the festive season.
Over the past year the county council has provided supermarket vouchers worth £15 per child per week of the school holidays to families who qualify for free school meals, with those eligible reaching record levels during the Covid pandemic.
Almost 18,500 children in Devon - excluding Torbay and Plymouth which run their own schemes - now qualify for free school meals, which equates to nearly 18.5 per cent per cent of all school children in the county and 2,500 more than this time last year.
Councillor Roger Croad, Cabinet member for communities, said: “It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to put a huge financial strain on some people and the effects are likely to be felt for some time still to come.
“It’s no surprise when so many people in Devon work in sectors such as catering, hospitality, leisure, retail and tourism, which were among the hardest hit over the last 18 months.
“The impact on household budgets means many people are finding it especially difficult now as we move into colder winter months, particularly with the cost of food, energy, water and other essential items."
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Cllr Croad added: “We are committed to supporting people in Devon experiencing hardship and this funding will help those who are struggling.”
Help with food and utility costs is also available via the household support fund, which runs until April next year, with people having to apply through local district councils.
It can be used for things like emergency boiler and heating repairs and housing costs.
Opposition leader Councillor Alan Connett, who is also the leader of Teignbridge District Council, welcomed the extra school meal vouchers, adding that it was agreed by all council leaders in the area.
“I would encourage anyone who thinks they might be entitled to free school meals for their children to apply right away. Every bit really does help.”
However, he also warned: “The household support fund is very welcome, but let’s not forget that families across Devon have had their £20 a week uplift in universal credit taken away at a time when household costs, including gas and electricity, are going up.
“The new support grant is a help, but it does not provide anywhere near the same level of help that the directly paid universal credit uplift did.
“At Teignbridge, we’re part of the scheme with Devon County Council to help families and, additionally, we also provide 100 per cent relief on council tax for those in the greatest need. Not all councils in Devon do this.”
Leader of the Labour group at county hall, Councillor Rob Hannaford, said: “Its great news that these vouchers have been doubled in the run up to Christmas, as so many families really struggle to pull everything together each year.
“It’s especially important this time around, as a large number of people are still reeling from the twenty-pound universal credit cut.
“With the cost-of-living crisis and the winter pressures around heating verses eating, it was obviously the very worst time to slash benefits.
"I hope that there is an urgent government rethink in the new year so that these one-offs, welcome as they are, won’t be needed so much.”