Coronavirus: Court action threatened over school meal vouchers

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Campaigners have threatened to bring legal action against the government for not providing free school meal vouchers during the summer.

Normally children only get free meals from school during term-time.

But eligible pupils received food vouchers over Easter as the country coped with the Covid crisis.

The Department for Education said the scheme will not continue in the summer holidays but campaigners say children in vulnerable families will go hungry.

They have written to the Department of Education threatening to bring a judicial review of the decision.

The letter was sent by the food charity Sustain and the Good Law Project, led by the campaigning lawyer Jolyon Maugham.

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Kath Dalmeny of Sustain said: “I have spent hours and hours and hours of my time on Zoom meetings, on phone calls trying to get this issue noticed by all other means. That has not worked and so we must make people take this seriously.”

But no legal challenge has yet begun, they do not yet have a court date or the funds to complete a case, and many attempted judicial reviews fail.

The voucher scheme has cost more than £129m in England already and is worth £15 per week for each eligible child.

One woman, Daisy, who has two children, said the amount and standard of food they ate would have to be cut without the vouchers. “Having that fifteen pounds a week is a big deal,” she told the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

Mother-of-four Aimee Smith said she relied on the money. When funds have run short in the past, she said: “I’ve just had to give them plain pasta, if we haven’t had anything else.”

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Reuters

Image caption

Ministers are responding to fears that children on free school meals could go hungry

She said she often went without meals or had a piece of toast to make sure there was enough left for her children. “That’s what we will call a dinner for the night,” she said. “Not being able to eat, it’s not a nice thought, is it?”

In a statement, a Department for Education spokesperson said as schools opened more widely the government expected them to make food parcels available for children who are eligible for free school meals but not yet back in the classroom.

“Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils,” the spokesperson said. “The national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.”

In Wales, families have been promised free school meals will be provided until schools re-open or until the end of August.

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