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Response to free school meals scheme demonstrates the need

Published October 27, 2020 4.08pm

A scheme to extend free school meals over the half-term holidays received more than 4,000 applications within hours of its launch.

We stepped in to provide this much-needed support to families who rely on free school meals after the Government voted against extending the national scheme over the school holiday period last week.

We acted quickly to set up a local scheme in time for the half-term break, with the application form launched on our website at 4pm on Monday. Parents and carers whose children are eligible for means-tested free school meals were invited to apply for one £15 voucher per child and by 8.30am the following morning (today), there had been 4,232 applications. By 3.30pm the same day, this number had risen to 5,734.

Stepping in when needed

Cllr Angela Surtees, our Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: "The response we have had to the scheme so far demonstrates just how greatly this support is needed. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, we know that 35 per cent of children in the North East were living in poverty. The outbreak has added even more pressure onto our communities and sadly a lot of families are finding it a struggle to make ends meet.

"When a decision was made not to extend the national free school meal scheme over the half-term break, the council stepped in and I am pleased to see this much-needed support is going to those who need it. We are determined to ensure no child in County Durham goes hungry this half-term."

Eligible parents and carers can apply for the support by completing a form on the  page before 4pm on Friday 30 October. They will then be sent a QR code, which can be redeemed at any PayPoint or Post Office and used to buy food and drink supplies. Residents can find their nearest PayPoint on the PayPoint website or Post Office branch on the Post Office website.

Anyone who struggles to access the internet or does not have a device that would support the digital code can call our County Durham Together community hub on 03000 260 260. Staff will be on hand from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, to help people with the forms or talk through other options.

The scheme will run throughout this week, but the council will ensure it is extended to cover the Christmas holidays if the Government's position does not change.

Supporting those in need

Cllr Olwyn Gunn, our Cabinet member for children and young people's services, said: "Once again the people of County Durham are supporting each other in difficult times. Whether it be individuals, voluntary organisations, sports clubs or businesses they have spoken up and stepped up. I would like residents to know that Durham County Council will always do its best to support those in need in our communities. This is a perfect example of that commitment in action."

We supports a number of schemes across the county providing activities and food for children and young people during the holidays. To find out about activities taking place, visit the County Durham Families half-term activities page.