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Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?

As part of The Big Issue’s Summer Survival Guide, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about free school meals and the alternatives available this summer.

Free school meals are a lifeline for many families living in poverty. The scheme means that the poorest children in the country are guaranteed at least one nutritious hot meal a day. It is crucial in the fight to stop children going hungry.

Campaigners have repeatedly called on the government to urgently expand the free school meals scheme. In 2020, footballer Marcus Rashford fought alongside charities and successfully convinced the government to offer meal vouchers over the summer holidays to 1.3 million children in England.

The government is not directly funding food packages or meal vouchers this year, so what are the alternatives as the cost of living rises? It is a lottery postcode as the support available largely depends on where you live. 

Are free school meals being offered in England?

Many councils across England have decided to create their own meal schemes during the summer holidays, financed by the household support fund. This is a grant of £500 million distributed between local authorities to help households who need it most. 

Havering Borough Council, for example, is offering £90 for every child who is eligible for free school meals. That’s £15 a week over the summer holidays. Nottinghamshire County Council has committed to supporting around 30,000 children over the school summer holidays, by providing £1.5 million worth of food vouchers. This means every child will receive £50 of food support over the holidays. You can find out more about what support is available in your area through your local council’s website.

The government is also running the holiday activities and food programme again this year. The scheme, funded by the government and delivered by local councils, provides healthy food and activities for children who are eligible for free school meals. It runs for four weeks during the summer holidays – with 16 hours of activities offered each week. 

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What support is available in Scotland?

The Scottish Government’s website says: “If you get free school meals you may also be able to get help during the school holidays.” 

Councils across Scotland are offering free school meal payments but these are only available to households on eligible benefits. Universal free school meals for children in primary 1 to 5 will not be available over the summer holidays – but if you do receive benefits, your child may be eligible for free school meals payments. 

The Scottish government has so far announced that support will be available every holiday until Easter 2023. You’ll need to contact your local council to find out how to apply and the amount that is available will depend on where you live. For example, Dundee City Council offers a sum of £72 per child for the whole holiday, whereas Glasgow City Council pays £222.50 per child. 

Low income families may also be eligible for the Scottish Child Payment Bridging Payment. This is four payments of £130 made at Easter, Summer, October and Christmas.

Can I get free school meals in Wales?

Free school meals are going to be available throughout the summer in Wales. The Welsh Government announced earlier this year that it had invested £21.4m to make free school meals available in the Easter and summer holidays. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The cost-of-living crisis is putting families under real pressure – too many are having to make terrible choices between heating or eating as prices soar.

“Our Labour Government is doing everything it can to help people pay their bills and put food on the table. This extra funding for free school meals during the Easter, Whitsun and summer holidays will ensure children get a good meal even when they aren’t in school.”

Councils in Wales will provide low-income families with meal vouchers, money or packed lunches to cover the full period of the summer holidays.

Are free school meals being offered in Northern Ireland?

The department for education in Northern Ireland has announced that £12.6million will fund free school meals for children over the summer holidays. The grant, which will help 100,000 children, will run from July 1 to August 31, 2022. Low-income families will receive £13.50 a week, which will automatically be paid into bank accounts in two instalments.

The education minister Michelle McIlveen said: “This is an anxious time for many low income parents and I hope confirmation of this payment will provide some reassurance to them and alleviate some of the pressure they are experiencing.”

Here’s our Summer Survival Guide, which we will update regularly with new articles and tips on making sure your kids have a fun summer without breaking the bank

Get involved with the conversation on social media and share all your tips and advice for families using the #SummerSurvivalGuide

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