Council bosses warn 'not enough cash' for free school meals over summer holidays

Council bosses in Kirklees have warned that they don’t have enough cash to support around 18,000 children who normally receive free school meals over the summer holidays.

By Tony Earnshaw, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Monday, 4th July 2022, 6:00 am

Earlier this year the council was given £3.7m in Household Support Grant funding by the Government to cover the April to September period.

The money supports vulnerable people with payments and grants such as vouchers to help meet daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities.

The authority will get a further £3.7m to cover October 2022 to March 2023.

Kirklees Council faces a shortfall covering free school meals over the summer holidays. Photo: Getty Images

However finance chiefs have said a third of the total must be allocated to supporting pensioners receiving a council tax reduction. That’s approximately £100 per household to around 11,350 homes, totalling £1.23m.

Some of the remaining cash has already been spent – including £540,000 to cover free school meals over the Easter break.

That leaves the council facing a shortfall over the summer holidays, with officers warning the money remaining is “insufficient to both meet an equivalent provision for free school meal support for those entitled and provide crisis support for those that are not when they are in need”.

A council insider told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We’ve been told that an amount will be given to each child qualifying for the school free lunch.

"There are 17,000 [eligible] kids in Kirklees who were being paid £30 for two weeks back in 2020/2021 and now with all the inflation will be paid £70 for six weeks. On old figures that’s £20 short per child, plus inflation.”

A report laying out the scenario is set to go before the decision-making cabinet this week. It says the £70 will be “badged” as a one-off cost of living payment rather than free school meal support.

It adds: “Whilst this increases support only for families with children of school age, those families will experience additional costs when children are not in school.

"Other households can receive support through the scheme available to all households.

"This will result in total spend on households with children of £1.8m because of the £540,000 already allocated at Easter 2022.”

Two years ago the council drew up plans to foot the bill to feed youngsters over the Easter holidays who normally received free school meals.

The move was set to around £270,000 as it covered what was at that point a £15 per week, per child cost.

The council stepped back when the Government shifted its position on the issue.

Senior councillor Paul Davies (Lab, Holme Valley South), cabinet member for corporate services, said it was the council’s “top priority” to ensure people get the support they need.

He said: “All of our residents are feeling the impact of the increased cost of living and I want to ensure that everyone has access to advice and guidance for navigating this challenging period.

"I encourage residents to visit our cost of living support webpage to check you are maximising your income, claiming everything you are entitled to, and receiving up-to-date information on what support is available.”

Since the announcement of support measures by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on March 23, the council has paid out for than £55m in council tax rebates and reductions, discretionary crisis, free school meals and food packs via partners.

A further £7.5m is to be paid out over the coming two months.

In addition more than 57,000 people on benefits are to receive a payment of £326 in July – totalling more than £18m – followed by a further £324 in the autumn.

The authority is also set to pay out £76m in energy grants to around 190,000 properties in the borough, which will all receive £400 each in October.

The council’s living support webpage can be found here: www.kirklees.gov.uk/cost-of-living

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