Knowsley Council proactively responded to the issue around the continuation of free school meals during lockdown by introducing its own voucher system, making sure Knowsley school children didn’t go hungry after delays with the government launch of a national free school meals scheme.
The Knowsley system, in place from 27 March, prioritised the needs of the borough’s children and young people by continuing provision for all pupils who receive free school meals; those eligible through the Pupil Premium means tested benefit and also all children in Reception and Years 1 and 2 who receive Universal Free School meals (which are not means tested).
However, following the very disappointing second round Covid-19 funding announcement last week and the government decision not to fund Universal Free School Meals, the council has been left with no option but to adopt the system already used by other local councils, in line with government policy and fund only Pupil Premium free school meals.
Cllr Jayne Aston, Knowsey Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, said:
We potentially face a £10 million black hole in funding to get the borough through the coronavirus crisis after last week’s woefully inadequate second Covid-19 funding announcement.
“The £4.137 million second round funding, a reduction of 39% compared to the first round for the borough, was the fifth biggest cut in the whole country. The allocation does not in any way take into consideration the actual need in local areas, and Knowsley is still the second most deprived area in the country and therefore has a far higher amount of need than other areas.
“In the absence of a national scheme Knowsley took the bold and proactive decision to fund free school meals for Pupil Premium and the universal infants offer, at cost of £56,000 a week.
“With only just over £10 million allocated to cover our estimated £20 million response to Covid-19 and the government’s decision not to fund pupils who would normally receive an infant Universal Free School meal, we have been left with no option but to offer vouchers only to those children who have been means tested in line with government policy.”
Cllr Margaret Harvey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services in Knowsley, added:
We want to make sure no one misses out and are urging parents and carers to check if they might be eligible for these benefits related free school meals. Many parents and carers’ work situations may have changed due to Covid-19 and some families with infant children may not have applied previously as they are automatically entitled to free school meals under the universal offer.
“Our message is clear – it’s best to check. You can do this by visiting the council’s website and checking whether you receive one of the benefits listed.”
Cllr Shelley Powell, Cabinet Member for Communities & Neighbourhoods, commented:
“Feedback received from schools, parent and carers about our local scheme has been extremely positive so we will continue with our partner Wonde, who manage and facilitate the e-voucher system direct with all schools in the borough, as we move to means tested vouchers from Monday 11 May.”
Check if your child is eligible for means tested free school meals
The council wants to make sure that everyone who needs support can get it and is urging parents and carers whose financial circumstances may have changed due to the crisis, and those with infant school children, who have been receiving free school meals as part of the universal offer, to check to see if they might still be eligible under the Pupil Premium scheme.
Parents and carers can check if they might be eligible for Pupil Premium means tested free school meals by visiting the council’s website and applying if you receive one of the benefits listed.
How do free school meal vouchers work?
The Knowsley system will automatically continue from Monday 11 May, until further notice, for those who are eligible for means test free school meals.
Schools will continue to issue vouchers to parents and carers of eligible children according to school records via a text message or email on a fortnightly basis. They then receive a voucher to the value of £3 per child, per day for each two week (10 school days) period. The vouchers can then be spent at Aldi, Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets.
The council and schools will continue to keep parents up to date with any changes as the situation continues.