I wanted to update constituents with the recent announcement about the new winter package, which sets out to provide further support for children and families.
We are committed to supporting every child and every family who are struggling, and the debate last month on free school meals was never about not supporting these people, but the most appropriate mechanisms for doing so. The voucher scheme was not universally popular, and that’s partly why the Government has introduced this new scheme to find a better way to get the support to where it’s needed most.
The Covid Winter Grant Scheme dedicates £170m to local authorities across the country, ensuring that vulnerable households do not go hungry or without essential items. The Scheme will be run by the councils, and funding will be ring-fenced with at least 80% earmarked to support with food and bills. I’m pleased that Worcestershire County Council will be receiving over £1.6 million to help the most vulnerable in our area. To put this amount into context, funding free school meals for two weeks across the country would cost around £20m. We are going beyond this to help families on lower incomes in this difficult time.
This scheme will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, and councils are best placed to ensure appropriate holiday support will reach those that need it. In term-time, this responsibility will remain with the schools, who will continue providing meals for disadvantaged children as before.
I received a lot of correspondence from constituents who raised concerns about the ongoing impact of the pandemic on families’ ability to support their children, and that’s why we have introduced this scheme which will be available to children in ever local authority in England, as well as having other measures in place.
As well as the introduction of the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, we’ve announced an increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week for the Healthy Start scheme which supports pregnant women or those with children under the age of 4 to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This scheme is available to those in receipt of benefits to make sure that their children can get the nutrients they need when it matters most.
We’ve also expanded the Holiday Activities and Food programme across England next year, investing up to £220m in providing healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children and covering Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021. This programme has been shown to be an effective way to close the gap of learning loss between the richest and poorest children and is an important mechanism to help parents through the long summer holidays.
We will also continue to work closely with food distribution charities, such as FareShare, helping ensure no one is left in a position where they or their children go hungry.
I know that many of you were understandably concerned about children going hungry through the school holidays. I hope this winter package reassures you that we are doing everything we can to ensure this doesn’t happen. If you or someone you know is struggling, please do get in touch and I will direct you to the appropriate bodies for help.