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Petition End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry

Government should support vulnerable children & #endchildfoodpoverty by implementing 3 recommendations from the National Food Strategy to expand access to Free School Meals, provide meals & activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger & increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme

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Covid-19 has been tough on us all but Government should ensure children don’t pay the price:

- 14% of parents & 10% of children have experienced food insecurity over the last 6 months
- 32% of families have lost income as a result of Covid-19
- Demand for food banks this winter is predicted to be 61% higher than last.

With the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, I am calling for Government to allocate money to

- Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit
- Provide meals & activities during all holidays
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.

These 3 recommendations must be implemented without delay to #endchildfoodpoverty.

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Government responded

This response was given on 11 November 2020

We thank Marcus Rashford for highlighting the challenges facing families. On 8th November, the Government announced a comprehensive support package to help families through winter and beyond.

Government have announced a comprehensive package of support to help families through the winter months, and beyond through the new Covid Winter Support grant, increasing the value of Healthy Start Vouchers and the national rollout of the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the longer holidays in 2021.

With Christmas coming, we want to give disadvantaged families peace of mind and help those who need it to have food on the table and other essentials so every child will be warm and well-fed this winter.

Through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, we are delivering £170 million to local authorities in England starting in December to cover a period until the end of March. This fund builds on the £63 million already distributed earlier this year. This will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays. Local councils understand which groups need support, and are best placed to ensure appropriate support is provided – which is why they will distribute the funds, rather than schools, who will continue providing meals for disadvantaged children during term-time.

The Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has provided healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, will also be expanded across England next year. It will cover Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021, and cost up to £220 million. It will be available to children in every local authority in England, building on previous programmes – including this summers, which supported around 50,000 children across 17 local authorities.

Healthy Start scheme payments are also set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021. This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This will help people boost the long-term health of their children.

The Government has also pledged additional funding of £16 million for food distribution charities, with conversations with FareShare and others ongoing as to how this is allocated.

Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit

• Free school meals provide additional support to disadvantaged pupils, helping them to concentrate, learn and achieve whilst in school. We think it is important that this is targeted at those that need it most.

• In 2018, Government introduced new eligibility criteria for families on Universal Credit, following a consultation in 2017.

• It is estimated that this will be more generous in its reach by 2022, in comparison to the legacy benefit system.

• Further to this we included generous protections, which mean any family transitioning to Universal Credit will continue to have access to a free school meal even if they move above the earnings threshold.

• Universal Credit is a revolutionary benefit, which tapers away slowly as people increase their earnings, ensuring people are better off taking on more work.

• Our analysis in 2018, estimated that extending eligibility to all families on Universal Credit would result in almost half of all school pupils becoming entitled to free school meals.

Provide meals & activities during all holidays

• Building on the significant support given to the most vulnerable during the pandemic, a new £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be run by councils in England.

• We have supported thousands of young people through our summer Holiday Activities and Food programme, operating for the third year running. This will be expanded across England next year. It will cover Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021, and cost up to £220 million.

• We have taken substantial action to support children and their families including:

- extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were closed;

- providing more than £380 million worth of supermarket vouchers to families and schools through our National Voucher Scheme and the Covid Summer Food Fund;

- supporting our £35m breakfast club scheme to continue in schools in disadvantaged areas;

- extending our welfare support by £9.3bn;

- allocating £63m funding to local councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food and other essentials; and

- increased the safety net with income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and support for renters.

Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.

• The Healthy Start scheme payments are set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021.

• The Healthy Start scheme provides important support for the people who use it.

• The scheme provides a nutritional safety net to hundreds of thousands of lower income pregnant women and families with children under the age of four. It encourages a healthy diet by providing vouchers that can only be spent on fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, pulses, plain cow’s milk and infant formula, and provides access to Healthy Start vitamins for both pregnant women and children.

• The Department of Health and Social Care made it easier for families to apply for and use the scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department removed the requirement for a health professional signature on the Healthy Start application form and has extended the validity period of the vouchers.

• This supported people, for example pregnant women who are self-isolating, to apply for the scheme and reduced pressure on healthcare professionals.

We thank Marcus Rashford for the work he has done in highlighting the challenges families are facing as a result of the pandemic.

We are actively keeping all packages of support under review.

Department for Education

Other parliamentary business

MPs to debate free school meals in the House of Commons

MPs will debate funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays this Wednesday 21 October in the main House of Commons Chamber. The subject of the debate has been determined by the Official Opposition.

This debate is in addition to any work the Petitions Committee choose to do on this petition. We’ll send another message about the Committee’s next steps for this petition as soon as possible.

The debate will start around 4pm, following the conclusion of the debate on fire and re-hire tactics.

Watch here this Wednesday: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/9953142c-b63e-4140-9912-db2bf9f0597e
Find out more about how Parliamentary debates work: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/

What is an opposition day?

Opposition days are days allocated in the House of Commons for the discussion of subjects chosen by the opposition (non-government) parties. On Opposition days the House considers a motion that has been tabled by an opposition party, in this case the Official opposition.

It is open to the Government, or any MP, to propose amendments to the motion. Motions agreed on opposition days are not normally seen as binding on the Government.

You can find out more about Opposition days here: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn06315/

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