43,000 children to benefit from food vouchers and extra support in Manchester this Christmas

Around 43,000 children and their families in Manchester are set to benefit from a helping hand with their food shopping to make sure they don't go hungry over the school Christmas holidays and February half term next year.

The council's Executive has today agreed to put aside £2.47m from its £2.58m share of the government's local authority Covid Winter Support Grant to go directly into the pockets of local families and young people in need over the coming weeks.

The grant has been allocated to local authorities for them to provide support to vulnerable households and families with children affected by the pandemic throughout the winter period, and where alternative help isn't available.

It can be used by councils to help families with food costs, energy, water, or other financial support, with local councils deciding how best to allocate the money locally.

Throughout the year the council has been at the forefront of the response to the coronavirus pandemic in the city - and this includes stepping in to provide support for children eligible for free school meals and their families during the Easter and October half term holidays when no national support for them was made available.

Building on this, the council's Executive has now approved plans that will see it continue to provide this much-needed support to families throughout the upcoming Christmas break and February half term.

Following discussions with schools and with supermarkets, the new support scheme will see all families of children eligible for free school meals issued with supermarket vouchers by their school to the value of £15 per week per school-aged child.  Vouchers will be given to families before schools break up for the Christmas holidays.

The latest available data shows that in October approximately 32.4k children and young people at Manchester schools were eligible for free school meals - which is around 37% of all pupils in the city's schools.  This is an increase of around 2,000 since the start of the pandemic back in March.  Due to the economic impact of the pandemic this number is expected to rise even higher, so within the new scheme contingency has been set aside for this to make sure that no family that becomes eligible for support misses out.

As well as making sure all those pupils currently eligible for free school meals don't go hungry over the holidays, the scope of the scheme has been widened to include other children and young people who would not previously have been considered for support.

For the first time school sixth-formers whose families meet the criteria for free school meals or who previously accessed free school meals when they were under 16, will now be eligible for support.

Similarly students at the city's further education colleges will also be supported, with the council giving up to £150k to colleges for them to set up their own support schemes.

An estimated 7,000 additional children aged under five who attend early years settings are also set to benefit from the scheme with support to be given to all those children whose families meet the criteria for free school meals and who may be vulnerable during the holidays due to the setting's closure.

The scheme will also support children in vulnerable families known to schools who are outside the scope of free school meals but where an early help assessment has identified that they require extra support during the school holidays.

Other beneficiaries who will also be supported through the scheme include care-leavers, children of families that are classed as having no recourse to public funds, asylum seekers and refugee children, and nursery-age children who currently do not receive free school meals but who would be eligible for them.

A further £132k of the Covid Winter Support Grant will also be used by the council to support its food response team - set up in March at the start of the pandemic - through the winter months.

Councillor Garry Bridges, Executive Member for Children and Schools, Manchester City Council, said:  "Throughout these last nine months one of the hardest things to see has been the massive impact on so many of our families and young people who were already struggling long before the pandemic came into play.

"Life is not easy for them at the best of times, but at times like this they really do need our support like never before.  We're determined to keep doing everything we possibly can to help support them through these next few months and to help keep food on the table, and would like to thank the supermarkets that have stepped up to the plate to help us with this.  No child or young person should have to go to bed hungry - and we're determined to make sure that on our watch, no child or young person will."

The supermarkets working with the council on the voucher scheme for the Christmas holidays and February half term are Aldi, Tesco, and Morrisons.

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