In January 2021, the government was criticised for refusing to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children over the February half term.
The UK government said that schools “do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term” as “there is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme”.
But the government’s own guidance, released at the time, says that: “the COVID Winter Grant Scheme is not intended to replicate or replace free school meals”.
When Channel4 FactCheck asked the Department for Education whether or not the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is intended to replace half term school meals, a spokesperson told them:
“As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.
“Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.”
When we contacted the Department for Education about this, their spokesperson said:
“Throughout the pandemic schools provided free school meals for eligible pupils, including while they were learning remotely.
“The purpose of the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is to provide funding for Local Authorities to support vulnerable families, beyond funding for food - including for example to pay for essential utility bills.
“It therefore is not a replication of the Free School Meals programme, which runs during term-time to give extra support to disadvantaged pupils.”
The government’s statement that lunch vouchers were not needed because “there is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time” implies that the Covid winter grant scheme would be sufficient to support families, without additional vouchers being necessary. The government’s own guidance contradicted this.