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Herts County Council extends free school meals in holidays until summer 2021

Hungry children in Hertfordshire will receive £15 a week in food vouchers as the county council extends its free school meals provision during holidays until May half-term next year.

The Government has granted the authority nearly £2.5m to deliver the allowance and other relief measures after a U-turn by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Last month Bishop's Stortford's Conservative MP Julie Marson was among 319 MPs who voted against a Labour motion to extend free school meals in holidays until Easter 2021, defeating the 260 in favour.

Julie Marson MP - Hertford and Stortford. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (43135541)
Julie Marson MP - Hertford and Stortford. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (43135541)

But after sustained campaigning by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who also successfully lobbied the Government to extend free meals into the summer holidays this year, Mr Johnson announced new funding. The Covid Winter Grant Scheme will distribute £170m to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter.

In advance of that decision, the Liberal Democrats at Hertfordshire County Council tabled a motion at an extraordinary meeting of the council due to be held on Tuesday (Nov 17).

They urged the Tory administration: "In light of the Government's decision not to provide support for continued free school meals for those in receipt of these during the school holidays, this council commits to such provision through its facilities with or without the support of community groups up to and including the Easter holidays in 2021."

Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images (43135467)
Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images (43135467)

But on Monday (Nov 16) county council leader Cllr David Williams announced that it had gone further with a commitment from this Christmas break to summer half-term 2021.

He said: "We have always said that no child or vulnerable household should go hungry during this pandemic and the money from Government will help us deliver on that pledge.

"Thanks to our effective financial management and strong lobbying of Government, I am delighted that we have been able to secure sufficient funds to support those in need.

"We also welcome the Government's Holiday Activities and Food Programme for the Easter, summer and Christmas 2021 school holidays and the opportunity that this will provide to build on the innovative Fit, Fed and Read programme that has been delivered since 2018 in conjunction with Hertfordshire Sports Partnership."

Cllr David Williams (43135464)
Cllr David Williams (43135464)

In Hertfordshire, around 22,200 youngsters are eligible for free school meals. During the summer holidays, 80% of them took advantage of the scheme.

To roll out the programme in Hertfordshire will cost an average of £67,000 a day, Monday to Friday, during each break – or £670,000 for the Christmas holiday period, £335,000 for February half term and £670,000 for Easter. Across the five-week period, the cost will be around £1.675m.

Further help for families in need in East Herts is available. A district council spokeswoman said: "The county council has offered grants to families facing financial difficulties to help with the costs of food, bills and the purchase of other household essentials, and these grants are still available.

"The funding that East Herts Council has received from the Government is to partially compensate the council for loss of income or to fund new responsibilities to deal with the impact of the virus on the services that it provides, which doesn't include school meals."

Anyone who needs help can contact HertsHelp at www.hertshelp.net, email info@hertshelp.net or call 0300 123 4044.

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