Supermarket vouchers are to begin going out to the families of children entitled to free school lunches to cover the cost of a meal while schools are shut during the coronavirus epidemic.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said schools across England are being invited to join the scheme to ensure those families most in need of support get the help they need.
He said that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were also being given the chance to sign up.
It is estimated that 1.3 million pupils are currently entitled to free meals.
The vouchers – for £15-a-week for each eligible child – have been set above the £11.50 currently paid to schools for the cost of providing free meals.
The decision is in recognition that families – unlike school caterers – do not order in bulk and therefore face higher costs.
Mr Williamson said that while some schools were making their own plans to ensure pupils continued to be fed, he hoped most would join the scheme.
He said that no child should have to go hungry as a result of measures brought in to control the spread of the virus.
“I really hope that this is something taken up by most schools. I think this will be a real big help to so many families,” he told the PA news agency.
“We are living in extraordinary times at the moment. It’s really important that we do everything we can do for families, make sure those children we really want to be able to support and help are getting that support.
“What we are wanting to do is just give schools that extra bit of support, give families that extra bit of support.”
Low-income families whose children are eligible for free school meals will be offered vouchers or meals at home, even if they are no longer attending school due to #coronavirus— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) March 19, 2020
Read more: https://t.co/xvWkcBId5E#covid19uk pic.twitter.com/G6583QjUft
The Government originally announced the voucher plan following the decision earlier this month to order the closure of all schools.
The vouchers can be spent on food at a range of shops including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer, although Mr Williamson said he hoped to get all the supermarket chains signed up.
Once a school has joined the scheme the vouchers will be sent out by email directly to the eligible families by the Department for Education’s supplier, Edenred.
Alternatively, for those families which do not have internet access, the school can claim them on their behalf and send out paper copies in the post.