Kent County Council is developing proposals to provide food vouchers to the families of children who are eligible to receive benefits-related Free School Meals ahead of the December school holidays.
The scheme would be part of a wider range of measures to help the lowest income households with food and fuel costs over winter.
Following on from the council’s half-term holiday food voucher scheme, families with children who are in receipt of benefits-related Free School Meals will receive vouchers to spend in supermarkets without the need to apply for them.
As part of the proposals, the council aims to have all vouchers distributed well in advance of schools breaking up for the festive period.
Leader of Kent County Council, Roger Gough said: “No child should go hungry at any time of the year but Christmas can put additional financial pressure on families and make it even harder to afford the basics such as food.
“As the half-term voucher scheme was drawing to a close, colleagues and I were already looking towards the December holidays and discussing ways we could improve the offer even further to ensure the families of every child who receives benefits-related Free School Meals during term-time would benefit.
“The half-term scheme was launched, at very short notice, on the first day of the school holidays, after the Parliamentary debate on Free School Meals. The message about the dedicated webpage and helpline was widely shared, the uptake was good, and we distributed more than 20,000 vouchers. However, we have had more time to prepare for the December holidays and I am pleased to say the scheme we now have in place will allow all eligible families to receive their vouchers without having to fill out an application form or make a phone call.
“We hope that by providing these food vouchers we will be easing the pressure on some of Kent’s most vulnerable families at Christmastime, at the end of what has been an extremely difficult year for us all.”
The food voucher scheme would be funded by part of KCC’s £4.5m share of the Government’s £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme, which aims to help Local Authorities support children, families, and their most vulnerable residents over the winter.
Families will receive one £15 voucher per eligible child per week of the two-week December holiday, which can be spent online or instore at Asda or instore at Tesco. These are the UK’s two largest supermarket chains that have the biggest distribution of stores across Kent.
Any family that has not received a voucher by Wednesday, December 9, and believes their children are eligible, should contact their school in the first instance.
The final proposals, covering the full £4.5m Covid Winter Grant Scheme, will be considered by the Leader of the Council as part of the usual Executive Decision-making process shortly. It is currently intended that over half of the £4.5m will be used to support the Free School Meals voucher scheme. Details of the additional schemes, which will help other residents including families with pre-school aged children, as well as families without children, are still being finalised and will be published as part of the formal decision. The Council continues to move at pace to plan and deliver support where it is most needed as quickly as possible.
KCC plans to launch a similar scheme to provide food vouchers for eligible families during the February half-term break and details will be available in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the Kent Together helpline and webpage remain open for anyone in the county who is struggling during the pandemic. Any Kent resident who requires support with accessing food, or who has any other urgent needs, can call 03000 41 92 92 or visit www.kent.gov.uk/kenttogether 24 hours a day.