MPs have raised concerns that vulnerable families are "falling through the support net" as they have struggled to access free school meals provision through the government's online voucher system.
Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, has sent a letter signed by 70 MPs to education secretary Gavin Williamson calling on him to address the "failings" of the government's free school meal voucher system.
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It points out that a third of schools remain unregistered for the free school meals scheme, while more expensive supermarkets such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are included in the vouchers, whereas cheaper retailers such as Lidl and Aldi are not.
🚨My letter to @GavinWilliamson signed by 70 MPs about failings of the #coronavirus #FreeSchoolMeals scheme.— Siobhain McDonagh MP (@Siobhain_Mc) April 10, 2020
- 1/3 schools unregistered
- Hundreds of thousands of children missing out
- Vouchers eligible for @waitrose & @marksandspencer but not @LidlGB & @AldiUK! pic.twitter.com/96jfRkmitR
The letter states that while the group of MPs are pleased free school meals are still going ahead during school closures, they are "concerned that the logistics of this process has resulted in many of our most vulnerable families falling through the support net".
The letter points out that the government's online free school meal voucher service, Edenred, does not take into account the fact that "many of the most vulnerable families do not have internet access".
The letter adds that this will be a particular issue for children moving between different addresses in temporary accommodation. And it says that Ms McDonagh has heard from parents who do not have an email address, and from schools with incomplete email lists for parents, as well as "families who do not know about the system in the first place".
"These difficulties are exacerbated given the reports of an increasing number of families in financial difficulty who are cancelling their broadband services to minimise their outgoings at this time of uncertainty," the letter states.
Ms McDonagh referred to "a significant number of schools for whom this system is not yet even up and running".
This week, Tes reported that many schools were still struggling to access support from Edenred after the site went offline over the Easter weekend.
The letter also points out that the vouchers provided are only redeemable at "specific stores, with Waitrose and Marks and Spencer eligible but stores including Aldi and Lidl not".
"Would it not be in the interest of the families, the supermarkets and the taxpayer if all stores were part of the scheme and not just the most expensive?" the letter asks.
It calls on the government to rectify the situation as a matter of urgency.