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Holiday food payments for schoolchildren in Northern Ireland to go ahead


Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

Teachers have welcomed the introduction of a summer holiday food grant, but have warned that they do not wish to see the problem resurface once the summer ends.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen announced that children entitled to a free school meal will receive a school holiday food grant this summer, after fears the scheme would not go ahead due to the impasse at Stormont.

The summer holiday food grant will run from July 1 to August 31, 2022 and will benefit 98,000 children.

Families will receive £13.50 per week for each entitled child but a longer term plan to pay families the grant until 2025 is not yet funded.

“At a time when many families are already financially vulnerable, this payment will help to ensure that more than 100,000 of our children and young people can continue to access healthy, nutritious food this summer,” said Ms McIlveen.

“I hope confirmation of this payment will provide some reassurance to them and alleviate some of the pressure they are experiencing.”

Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, said the news will be relief in the short term as teachers had been left to watch children suffer.

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“We see first-hand the growing challenges being faced by families whose budgets are being increasingly squeezed by soaring cost of living increases,” she said.

“The added cost of replacing free school meals during the summer months would be enough to push many families over the financial edge.

“Food banks here saw a surge in numbers during the summer holidays in previous years as families whose children normally had access to school breakfast clubs and free school dinners had to fill those gaps themselves – as well as trying to cover the added costs of keeping children looked after in summer.

“The alternative for families worst effected could result in an even bleaker future of high interest loans and credit repayments which all too often lead to a spiral of debt.

“It is heart-breaking for teachers to think that some of the children can only look on as others enjoy a carefree summer, simply because their parents can’t make ends meet.

“This should not be allowed to happen.

“No charity can replace the dignity of having enough money to feed yourself and your family and we should all be protected from even needing to use a foodbank, regardless what time of year it is.”

But while there has been a broad welcome, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said doubts remain in the long term.

“It’s deeply disappointing that parents were waiting until the last minute on this funding, causing significant anxiety and concern at what is already a very difficult time,” he said.

“While it will help, this cannot be the end of support for struggling families. The SDLP wants to see every qualifying family receive these payments for the rest of the year at a minimum.

“We need a functioning Assembly and Executive. The DUP need to get back to work so we can unlock the funding at Stormont and get support to people who desperately need it.”

Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds, though, said the gauntlet had been thrown down to other ministers.

“The £12.6million allocated to this programme is a significant investment by the Education Minister. In this instance we have a Minister not just talking about the problems but taking positive action to help.

“Ministers remain in post and they have the ability to take decisions. Other parties and other Ministers should follow that example instead of wringing their hands and blaming others.”

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan added: “Sinn Fein has a plan to make this support permanent for children and families to put an end to the uncertainty caused by the DUP’s boycott of the Executive and the Assembly.

“We are ready to get the Executive up and running today to start putting money in people’s pockets and I would urge the DUP to join with the rest of us and get on with the job that people elected us to do.”

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