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BASW urges government to continue to provide free school meals this summer.

Children will go hungry if the Government doesn’t support families who are facing financial hardship through the summer holidays.

BASW is urging the Government to extend its free school meals voucher system for low income families in England over the summer holiday period, and for the Northern Ireland Executive to take similar action.

Almost 1.3 million children in England and 100,000 children in Northern Ireland are eligible for free school meals. The system will close in July when schools close for summer holidays.

Not all at risk children have been accessing school services and there is increasing concern about an escalation of poverty levels, severe financial hardship and families not coping.

The number of families facing poverty is growing with nearly 2.1 million people unemployed, and the Office for National Statistics reporting that 856,5000 people signed up for universal credit and jobseeker’s allowance benefits in April, driving up the overall UK claimant count by 69% in a single month.  UK food banks recently reported their busiest month ever, with 89% increase in need for emergency parcels.

Although the government has announced £63m for the Local Authority Welfare Assistance, such schemes have been significantly reduced over a number of years so in reality this is not a funding increase and it is not ring-fenced to ensure children are fed and do not go hungry.

We urge the government to act quickly to support low income families and to ensure children don’t go hungry over the summer holidays by providing food vouchers, meal delivery or arranging bank transfers.

We commend Marcus Rashford for speaking out about this issue and hope politicians will listen to his words: "make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority" this is "not about politics" but about "humanity".

Too many people have lost their lives to coronavirus and the impact on the economy has been harsh including high levels of unemployment, households where family members have been furloughed and an increase in demand at food banks.

We need to see a long term anti-poverty action plan that acknowledges the additional impact of Covid-19 and the economic recession.