Published: 12:51, 08 July 2020
| Updated: 12:55, 08 July 2020
Kent’s poorest children could be "deprived" of free school meals if their parents are made redundant during the summer holidays, a councillor has warned.
A £120 million Covid summer food fund has been set up by Boris Johnson’s government for disadvantaged school children, aged five to 16, which will run for six weeks from July 20 to the end of August.
However, the £90 food voucher will have to be ordered by parents seven days before the school term ends. This means that claims will not be accepted after mid-July.
Kent County Council’s main opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem) warned that the “cut-off point” could be damaging for Kent families that suffer job losses over the two-month summer recess.
The Maidstone county councillor said: “There will be people who will be become unemployed in that six weeks. I wonder if we can think about some sort of scheme within KCC for picking up those children who may be deprived of free school meals due to circumstances beyond their control.”
The £330 billion UK Government furlough scheme started three months ago and is due to end on October 31. But, thousands of people across the country have already lost their jobs in the hospitality, airline and tourist sectors as lockdown restrictions have been eased.
Unemployment in Kent and Medway has risen by 122% since March, including 650 Covid-related job losses at Danish ferry operator, DFDS, which runs through Dover.
KCC's corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley, said County Hall continues to support families through financial hardship during the pandemic.
During a KCC scrutiny committee meeting yesterday (July 7), Mr Dunkley said many parents were being directed to support bases, such as food banks.
He added: "It's not a complete safety net, but staff from KCC’s social care and early help departments are making sure that food security is focused on."
KCC's scrutiny committee was also told that there had been an increase in the uptake of students applying for free school meal vouchers, rising from 17% of Kent’s 230,000 primary and secondary pupils in March to around 22%.
In June, Department for Education chiefs said that the scheme would be extended throughout the summer holidays and 1.3million children in England would be eligible.
This came following a high-profile campaign by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
Under the free meal scheme, families are issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card worth £15 each week per pupil, to spend at shops including Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter
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