How Plymouth families can get help to buy food at Christmas

Families in Plymouth with children eligible for free school meals will get help to buy food over the Christmas holidays.

Plymouth City Council is working on the details of a new scheme following a Government decision to provide extra support.

The Government announced a new £170million Covid Winter Grant scheme for England to fund food and bills for the most in-need after earlier refusing to extend free school meals over the October half-term.

The city council’s Labour cabinet member for education Jon Taylor said the U-turn by the Government followed pressure from the campaign to extend free school meals led by footballer Marcus Rashford.

He said that families in Plymouth were being encouraged to register for free school meals by December 9, which was a cut-off point to ensure help went to people in time over the Christmas holidays.

The city council stepped in with its own scheme to fund food for eligible children during the October half-term after the Government refused to extend free school meals during the holiday and voted down Labour’s proposal in Parliament.

The Plymouth support package for half-term was set up quickly and offered a payment of £11 for each child.

Cllr Taylor said there were 2,700 applications and just under 4,000 children were helped, at a cost of around £40,000.

He told a meeting of the city council’s Cabinet: “You can see from the number of people who applied that it was something that was desperately needed. I’m just really pleased that we were able to step up and do that.”

The number of children qualifying for free school meals in Plymouth has risen during the pandemic to around 9,000.

Cllr Taylor said details of the Christmas support scheme were being worked on by the city council and more information would be released later.

Government figures show Plymouth will get a £926,000 share of the Covid Winter Grant Scheme at the start of December.

The money is ring-fenced, with more than three-quarters allocated for support families with food and bills to the end of March 2021.

The Government also announced an expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme for disadvantaged children with up to £220million funding to cover Easter, summer and Christmas next year.

Healthy Start scheme payments are also set to increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021, supporting pregnant women or those with children under four to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”

The Winter Grant Scheme comes after an earlier £63million for local authorities to provide emergency support to families, pensioners and the most vulnerable with food, essentials and meals.

The Government says it has protected nine million jobs with the furlough scheme and increased welfare support by £9.3billion during the pandemic, including a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit and Tax Credits this year.

Plymouth Live