The County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and Young People, Councillor Patricia Stallard, said: “No child should go hungry. In November, through our connect4communities programme, we made arrangements to ensure sufficient funding was distributed to childminders, early years’ providers, schools and colleges, for them to purchase and supply food vouchers to the families of eligible children for the two-week Christmas school holidays and February Half Term.
“Over 105,000 vouchers were given to families in need for the two-week holiday in December and over 35,000 will be provided, for the February break, to those same families and any others in need who were not previously identified.”
Schools hold the budgets for the provision of free school meals during term time and have been making local arrangements to ensure those who are on benefits related free school meals entitlement and who are not in school are provided with a food parcel or vouchers while they are learning remotely.
Ahead of the February Half Term holiday - from the connect4communities programme - each eligible household will be given a voucher for each child. In line with the DWP’s funding criteria, food vouchers will be given to:
- All families whose children are eligible for free school meals
- Children being supported by a social worker
- Children receiving early help services from the County Council’s Family Support Service
- 2-4 year olds accessing childcare and eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium, or
- 16-18 year olds who were previously eligible for free school meals
Further support was put in place for families over the winter season, with each school and college being provided with a Discretionary Grant Fund. Schools and colleges have the flexibility to use this grant funding to help support families who may not be immediately eligible for the voucher scheme but find themselves struggling financially; for example, where a parent has lost their job due to COVID-19.
The money can be used to help families with food and other essential items, such as energy cards/tokens to pay fuel bills. However, in accordance with the DWP Winter Grant Fund criteria, this discretionary allowance cannot be used by schools to supplement term time Free School Meals.
Additionally, connect4communities has awarded a grant of £100,000 to the Citizens Advice Service in Hampshire specifically to support families and people in need with energy costs. People can find their nearest branch of Citizens Advice on the Service's website and, on the connect4communities online directory, search for local sources of other welfare support.
Councillor Stallard added: “On behalf of Hampshire County Council, I would like to reiterate our grateful thanks for the role that childminders, early years providers, schools and colleges have played in ensuring food vouchers reach eligible families. Without their support to purchase and distribute the vouchers, we would not have managed this enormous task so successfully.”
Anyone who would like to find out more information about the connect4communities programme can visit the website: connect4communities.org