I wanted to update you on the support available for families facing hardship over the forthcoming Christmas holidays and beyond.
Since the Free School Meals vote in October I have spoken to a number of important local figures including the West Berks Baby Bank and the Headteachers of Primary Schools across the district.
The Government has now announced a new scheme of funding for children (and their wider families) facing holiday hunger which are as follows:
- The Covid Winter Grant Scheme which will entail a payment of £278,888.42 for distribution by West Berkshire Council. It will be for the Council to determine how to allocate the funds although they will receive guidance from the Government on how to do so including with reference to benefits data (to which they will already have access). The funds available are significantly more than those that would have been available to support pupils on FSM alone (estimated at around £190,000) and will allow the Council to support families more widely, including those who have pre-school aged children who are not on an FSM list and also those who have had a recent change in circumstances or fallen on other hardship but have not yet registered their children for FSM.
I know that many of you wanted to see an extension of the voucher system, but it will be for West Berkshire Council to make a determination about how best to support the families – either with cash, vouchers, food or funding through third-party organisations. I have fed in the comments from the Primary School Headteachers to the Council about the method of provision.
- Secondly, the Government will also be extending the ‘Holiday Activities and Food Programme’ through the Christmas holidays and every further school holiday period in 2021. This offers healthy food and activities to disadvantaged children across West Berkshire and all those on FSM automatically qualify.
I will of course keep you updated with whatever West Berkshire Council decides in terms of distributing the support and ensure that it is well publicised to families in need ahead of the Christmas holidays.