24th October 2020
Dear Diane and Caroline,
We welcome the Council’s rapid response to the situation this week, where the government refused to provide free school meals to vulnerable children over the holidays, despite the enormous pressures families are under due to the coronavirus pandemic, after a decade of austerity. We have noted that Hounslow, amongst other local authorities will be providing ALL children eligible for free school meals with vouchers.
With 27% of children living in poverty in Kingston, it is vital that support is provided; however, from the information published so far it appears that only a fraction of the children receiving FSM vouchers who were helped previously will be helped now.
The criteria for FSM vouchers are as follows:
- income support
- income-based job seeker’s allowance
- income-related employment and support allowance
- the guarantee element of state pension credit
- support under part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- child tax credit (but not working tax credit) and an annual income of less than £16,190
- working tax credit run-on – paid for four weeks after working tax credit ends
- Universal Credit your household income must be less the £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)
The statement from RBK states that “Arrangements are being put in place to ensure that the most vulnerable families are able to access food vouchers during this half term and over the Christmas holiday period. Parents whose children have a social worker or are receiving support from the borough’s children’s services department may be eligible for assistance”. However, many children receiving free school meals do not receive services from RBK so will not be provided for under this scheme, nor is it clear which children will be eligible.
The statement from RBK also states that other families can receive help from Kingston Stronger Together. Will this be through food parcels, and how has capacity to deliver the service been built in to ensure that children have access to the food over the half term?
Will you be working with schools to identify who is claiming the FSM to signpost them directly to this alternative assistance? In this instance, simply putting out a statement on the website will not ensure families are aware of the support available.
Lastly, there were multiple issues with the Government voucher scheme over lockdown (e.g. many parents found that they were being told at the checkout that vouchers were not valid, and vouchers were not valid for more affordable places We are seeking your assurance that these issues will not arise this half term.
Chair for Kingston & Surbiton Labour