No universal free school meals in Leeds this Christmas despite cost of living crisis

Provision of holiday food support for children has become a “postcode lottery”, according to a leading charity.
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This comes after the BBC Shared Data Unit found more councils stopped offering supermarket vouchers to families with children in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM) during the 2022 Christmas break.

The Food Foundation said it is “vitally important” all children eligible for Free School Meals have support during the school holidays.

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Previously, families with children on Free School Meals across England had been offered food vouchers during school holidays - including half-term - since a successful campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Food Foundation said it is “vitally important” all children eligible for Free School Meals have support during the school holidays. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty ImagesThe Food Foundation said it is “vitally important” all children eligible for Free School Meals have support during the school holidays. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
The Food Foundation said it is “vitally important” all children eligible for Free School Meals have support during the school holidays. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

In 2021 the government also rolled out the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme to upper-tier authorities, which funded council bosses to “coordinate and provide free holiday provision” for children on Free School Meals “including healthy food and enriching activities”.

However, in August 2022, a BBC report found 11 councils had scrapped offering vouchers under the second round of the HSF funding - while a further 32 had reduced the value of the vouchers compared to the previous summer.

Leeds City Council will not be be offering specific vouchers or cash to families with children for food over the Christmas period. They will instead be offering one-off winter support payments specifically targeting families with children.

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A council spokesperson said: “Leeds City Council is continuing to provide the Healthy Holidays scheme, which includes free meals for participating children, through the Christmas holidays.

“Furthermore, while our allocation of the Household Support Fund prioritises fuel support this winter, it includes direct payments to low-income households, which include families with children on free school meals.”

Zoe McIntyre, the school food project manager at the Food Foundation, revealed that while local authorities are implementing the Government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme, that this is only funded to run for six weeks of the holidays (four hours per day, four days per week) over the entire year so not all will be offering it across all of the holidays.

She said: “It’s vitally important that children eligible for FSM have support during all the school holidays.

"This will help ease pressures on hard-working families during holiday times who face rising childcare costs combined with soaring food and fuel costs while children aren’t in school.”