Wokingham Borough Council pledges to provide Free School Meals during lockdown

AS PUPILS continue to learn from home during lockdown, the government has pledged to continue providing Free School Meals to eligible children – but some are concerned about the contents of their food parcels.

England has been in lockdown since January 5, and the government has instructed schools to arrange weekly provisions of food parcels or vouchers worth up to £15.

Schools can also claim an extra £3.50 for each student’s weekly lunch parcel to compensate for the additional cost of providing food at home.

What does the scheme look like in Wokingham borough?

In Wokingham borough, there were 2,185 children and young people enrolled on the Free School Meals scheme as of October 2020.

Following the lockdown announcement, Wokingham Borough Council pledged to continue to arrange provisions for pupils at home, with fortnightly hampers or food vouchers for eligible families.

“This third lockdown is hard on all of us, but it is especially difficult on families with school age children,” said Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services.

“We want to ensure we support our families as best we can, and one of the ways to do this is to ensure all those children who would normally get free school meals if they were at school are still getting healthy and nutritious food.”

Cllr Clark says the council is offering food vouchers worth £90 which can be used at various supermarkets across Wokingham borough. They are intended to provide six weeks’ worth of lunches.

“We have also been working with our free school meals provider, Caterlink to create fortnightly hampers of food with recipe cards that can be delivered to eligible families if they prefer this to the vouchers,” she added.

“We are currently reviewing the hampers to ensure they provide nutritious meals for the children and are good value.

“We have also offered schools who do not use our free school meals provider the opportunity to join our scheme during the lockdown, if that would help them.”

The hampers have not yet been distributed, and daily packed lunches are being offered as an interim solution to all schools.

34 of the 69 schools in Wokingham borough are using Caterlink’s services.

Why has the Free School Meals scheme faced criticism?

However, the Free Schools Meals provided to eligible pupils during this lockdown have recently come under fire – including hampers from Wokingham Borough Council’s contractor, Caterlink.

Parents up and down the country have suggested the food parcels do not provide enough food for a week’s worth of lunches, and Caterlink says it has “immediately reviewed” the parcels and “enhanced the contents”.

The government has also announced that those who have received an “inadequate” lunch parcel between Monday, January 4, and Saturday, January 16, can claim for a locally arranged food voucher.

Matt Rodda, MP for Reading East, says he is “very disappointed” with the government’s support provisions for families in need.

“It worries me deeply that the Government is putting families last at this difficult time,” he said.

“I’d like a complete rethink from the government on how it supports families, including extending more generous universal credit.”

Gavin Williamson, secretary of state for education, says the government’s national voucher scheme to replace Free School Meals will return on Monday, January 18.

This scheme ran throughout the first national lockdown, and gives schools freedom to choose whether they provide lunch parcels or food vouchers.

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