The council will continue funding young people in receipt of Free School Meal (FSM) vouchers this Christmas, continuing to spend monies from £400,000 set aside earlier this year to cover the cost of running the service for hundreds of children.
Almost a quarter of secondary school pupils in Merton are eligible for FSM, and, following the cut to Universal Credit of £20 a week, council officers and councillors want to ensure that no Merton school children will go hungry this Christmas.
Families will receive £15 in supermarket vouchers every week for every child – £30 a head over the holidays. Those entitled and attending a Merton state-funded school will receive funding through their school. Neighbouring boroughs have reciprocal arrangements for Merton families through their schools.
The latest move will be funded by Merton Council through recourse to the Household Support Grant programme that was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in September.
Merton will also deliver a holiday programme for those receiving FSM vouchers. Thirteen voluntary sector providers, including schools and community organisations, will host activities such as sports, drama, arts and crafts for 300 children. Participants will all receive nutritious meals as part of their day.
Councillor Eleanor Stringer, Joint Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children and Education, said: “This winter was already going to be tough enough for families due to the ‘perfect storm’ of benefit cuts, rising energy prices and uncertainty about fuel and food provision.
“The arrival of the Omicron virus means that just when they could be looking forward to some festive cheer, some of the most vulnerable members of our communities now have another worry.
“We’re proud to be continuing our funding of children on FSM vouchers for this and foreseeable holidays as we believe it’s right to help the hardest hit during these troubling times, and we will continue as a council to fight for those most in need in our communities.”