Since schools closed to most pupils on 20 March 2020, Knowsley Council has been providing free school meals to thousands of children across the Borough.
The next allocation of e-vouchers is due to be issued to cover the period of two weeks from 25 May. As parents will be aware, this falls within what would have been schools’ half term break.
The Government has now confirmed that its Free Schools Meals offer is term-time only and any school or council providing vouchers through school holidays will NOT be reimbursed. Therefore, given the substantial funding gap Knowsley Council is already facing, it will be unable to provide Free School Meals vouchers for this period (which for some schools is one week and two weeks for others).
Cllr Jayne Aston, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources said:
Despite our best efforts, and those of other organisations, we have been unable to persuade the Government to recognise the challenge many families are facing and fund the vouchers over the school half term break.
“The Council is already looking at a huge funding gap running into millions of pounds which is creating an unprecedented pressure on our finances, therefore we are simply unable to cover the cost of blanket free school meals provision to cover the holiday period.”
Furthermore, with schools looking at how they may be able to open to a wider number of pupils from 1 June 2020 (which for some schools may fall within what would have been their half-term holiday), the Council is working closely with all schools to help them plan for the phased, safe opening of schools and will consider the provision of free school meals as part of that work.
Parents / carers are urged to ensure they keep in contact with their child’s school and school websites for regular updates.
Cllr Aston added:
We know that some families are experiencing real financial strain at this time so this has not been an easy decision to come to but sadly we have no other choice at this time.
“What I would say to parents and carers however, is that if you are really struggling please do take a look at our website to see what benefits and help may be available or call our Covid19 emergency helpline 0800 073 0043. If we can help, we will.”