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Free school meals for 12,000 Cumbrian youngsters over Christmas

Nearly 12,000 children will receive free school meals over the Christmas period following a decision by Cumbria County Council.

From this week, schools can order e-vouchers that will be sent direct to families of children who receive free school meals.

At the moment, 10,206 children receive free school meals, and every one of them is eligible for the £33 voucher which covers the Christmas holiday period.

A further 1,534 pre-school children in early years settings, who are in receipt of funded two-year-old childcare or Early Years Pupil Premium, are also eligible for vouchers.

Councillor Sue Sanderson, cabinet member for schools and learning, said: “Christmas can be difficult for families on low incomes, especially this year.

“So, this is excellent news and I hope it will give families who may be struggling with the costs of food over the holiday period some extra support.

“This e-voucher scheme is widely used across the country and the vouchers can be used to pay for food in a range of supermarkets and shops.

“I know that many schools have already ordered the vouchers for their families and I’d encourage them all to make sure they get their orders in on time.

“This is just one part of a package of support that the council has put together to support people this Christmas and I sincerely hope it helps make a difference.”

Eligible parents and carers should talk to their child’s school or early years provider if they have not yet been contacted about the e-voucher scheme.

The scheme is one part of a package of support for people in need of help with food and utilities costs over Christmas, paid for using the £1.5m allocation Cumbria received from the national COVID Winter Grant Scheme.

It is expected that free school meals will also be funded over the February half-term holiday.

Under the conditions of the grant, 80 per cent of funding must go to households with children, with the remaining 20 per cent allocated to vulnerable adult households.

Alongside funding free school meals, the council is also committing £500,000 to providing £100 energy vouchers to families struggling with their bills.

This scheme will be managed by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau with people being referred for support by CAB Advisers, DWP Job Advisers, the council’s Ways to Welfare service, and Cumbria’s local COVID test and trace team.

The aim is to reach families that might not be eligible for free school meals, including those who are going onto Universal Credit for the first time and households that have to self-isolate but do not qualify for the £500 Test and Trace Support payment.

In addition, £200,000 has been allocated to the county council’s six district-based Local Area Teams to provide grants to local organisations providing support to the community over winter.

Work is underway to plan how this will be allocated.

This year the council’s Local Area Teams have already provided funding to a wide range of community organisations offering food and other types of support in response to the impact of COVID-19.

The council has also prioritised young people leaving Local Authority care and young adults with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities.

Council teams will have £100,000 to provide grants to those in particular need.

Councillor Deborah Earl, cabinet member for communities and public health, said: “We’ve thought hard about how to allocate this money.

“What we’ve done is ensure that money will get down to the local level, with decisions being made by people closest to what is going on in our communities, working side by side with community organisations.

“This is the right approach because there is definitely no one-size-fits-all approach for Cumbria and it means the county will get the most benefit from this money.

“Sadly, there are more people in need than ever, but I’d also stress that there is so much effort going on to ensure people can get help and support.

“If you need help, don’t stay silent, talk to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, call the council’s Support Helpline team, there are people who can help you.”

People can call the county council’s Support Helpline on 0800 783 1966 (Monday to Thursday 9am to 5pm, Friday 9am to 4.30pm) or email [email protected] and they will receive a response within one working day.

All the COVID Winter Grant funding must be allocated by 31 March 2021.