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Sunday, Apr 05, 2020

Vouchers to be given to students eligible for free school meals amid coronavirus shutdown

Children eligible for free school meals will not miss out after the government ordered the shutdown of all schools to help beat the coronavirus outbreak.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced in the Commons on Wednesday schools in England would close from Friday to all children except those of ‘key workers’ and vulnerable children.

The move led to calls for assurances that underprivileged children would not go hungry amid fears more families might enter financial difficulties due to the economic downturn.

Mr Williamson said vouchers redeemable in shops and supermarkets would be given to schools to provide ‘flexibility’ for eligible children, adding the Government would reimburse costs.

Speaking in the Commons, he said: ‘We will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children who are eligible for free school meals.

‘Some schools are already doing this and we will make sure those costs are reimbursed.

‘As soon as possible, we will put in place a national voucher system for every child who is eligible for free school meals.’

He added: ‘I would like to progress to a stage where, in a large number of schools around the country, there is also the ability to have meals there provided, but that will be dependant in terms of staffing in each of those schools.’

It came as Labour MP Jess Phillips warned Mr Williamson of an ‘explosion’ of the number of children who would qualify for school meals.

She said: ‘We are about to see an explosion in the number of people who are eligible for free school meals because of the downturn in the economy.

‘So can he (Mr Williamson) guarantee today that it won’t just be those who are eligible as of last week but who would be eligible in the future, which has always been a problematic thing to get people on the right benefits to claim school meals?’

Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday afternoon that schools in England would be closing in attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

It followed announcements made earlier in the day by Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister also said that all summer exams would be cancelled.

The UK death toll has risen to 104 and there are 2,626 confirmed cases.

Of those who have died, a third are in London which experts have said is ahead of the UK in terms of the trajectory of the disease.

This has led to Mr Johnson hinting that the capital could enter lockdown in the near future with additional social distancing measures enforced.

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