Council reportedly scrapping free school meal vouchers for most vulnerable children in Northampton

Free school meal vouchers are reportedly not going to be issued by West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) for the most vulnerable children in the county this May half-term.

Multiple parents have got in touch with this newspaper to say their children’s schools have sent out letters saying that WNC will not be issuing vouches over the half-term, which is from Monday, May 30 to Friday, June 3.

This newspaper has seen emails from both Abington Vale Primary School and Flore Primary School which confirms these reports.

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In Northamptonshire, 15 percent of all pupils were on free school meals by 2021, compared to 11 percent in 2017.

The letters from Flore Primary School and Abington Vale Primary School both read: “We have been informed that WNC has made the decision to not fund school holiday food vouchers for the May half-term period and therefore we will not be issuing any voucher links for our free school meal children as in previous holidays. “

One concerned parent got in touch with this newspaper saying WNC is being ‘very stingy’.

The parent said: “I do not use the scheme myself but at this time of strong economic pressure, especially to some of the poorer families in the county, I think this is a very stingy decision to make.

“Surely some funds would be available to help the families who are already struggling with the increasing cost of living to help feed their children? Or is this not something the council think is important?”

WNC was contacted for comment but has not yet responded to this newspaper.

The council provided vulnerable children with the vouchers back in February and Easter half-terms.

However, in January this year, Cllr Fiona Baker, who oversees the scheme at WNC, said the funds are not ‘inexhaustible’ and that it could be the ‘last time’ they can offer the vouchers.

She said: “With great determination we’ve made funding available for free school meals last throughout the entire pandemic, and we’re very pleased to be supporting vulnerable families once again during the first part of this year (February and Easter half-terms ).

“But that funding is not inexhaustible, and while we continue to lobby for help for those facing the most challenges, unfortunately this could be the last time we can offer this kind of support.”

Department of Education data shows that by the end of the 2020-21 school year, 51 percent of Northamptonshire’s children in need were eligible for free school meals – up from 44 percent at the same point in 2016-17.

The government defines a child in need as one needing support from their local authority to maintain a decent standard of development and education.

This includes children with disabilities and special educational needs, young carers, children who have committed crimes and those with parents in prison.

Free school meals are available to children whose parents receive benefits or are on incomes of less than £ 7,400 – so increases in numbers of children eligible to be an indicator of declining living standards.

In Northamptonshire, 15 percent of all pupils were on free school meals, compared to 11 percent in 2017.

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