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Is the free school meal voucher scheme working for everyone?

16 June 2020

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee has published a letter written to the Department of Education, calling on the Department for answers on the development and rollout of the free school meal voucher scheme.

As part of its inquiry into COVID-19 and food supply, the Committee have taken evidence highlighting ongoing issues with the scheme, intended to provide for children in receipt of free school meals during COVID-19 school closures.

The letter notes reports from the British Retail Consortium and Association of Convenience Stores, which raised concerns that retailers such as Aldi, Lidl, the Co-op and many independent stores were not included in the initial rollout of the scheme, despite these often being the shops the families in receipt of the meal vouchers rely on, and in some communities the only food store available.

The Committee has also published a letter written to them from Co-op food CEO, Jo Whitfield, stating the 'current implementation of the COVID19 voucher scheme for children in receipt of free school meals is not working as Government intended'.

Chair's comments

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said:

"The COVID summer food fund is a welcome and necessary intervention; the EFRA Committee heard from food bank charities that children have been badly affected by difficulties accessing food during the pandemic. However, questions about how the voucher scheme works need to be rapidly resolved.

Although initial teething problems with the scheme were understandable given the speed with which it was set up, retailers have raised very valid concerns about the shops that many families rely on being excluded from the scheme.

"It has now been months since schools first closed and many families will be relying on these vouchers to help feed their children over the summer. We hope that the Government will address our concerns with the urgency required."

Further information

Image: PA