At the Authority’s AGM today (18 May), a formal motion was passed unanimously acknowledging the impacts of ongoing cost of living pressures facing families, particularly relating to school meals and children’s uniforms. In a planned letter to the Minister of State for Education, the Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Rob Humby, will press Government for a review of the national eligibility criteria for free school meals, to give more children the opportunity to access a healthy school meal needed to fully develop and flourish. Hampshire’s MPs will also be urged to lobby Government on this issue.
Hampshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Councillor Steve Forster, said: “We have continually stressed to Government the need for adequate funding to support the provision of healthy school meals. The current level of school meal funding does not cover the full costs of providing a high-quality, nutritiously balanced meal for children, which is putting pressure on schools to make up the shortfall. While ongoing efforts are made to keep costs low, we are clear that the nutritional quality or portion size of meals should not be compromised, as doing so would adversely affect children, particularly those from low-income households who rely on a school dinner.
“Supporting Hampshire families is our absolute priority and alongside the excellent work that continues to be undertaken by our staff and directly by schools, we have also been advocating for additional funding for a range of supportive initiatives since living costs began to rise. We were delighted to have been awarded the £14.2 million from the Government’s Household Support Fund this year, which will help us deliver schemes aimed at supporting families struggling with food and fuel bills. This includes funds for schools so they can offer grants at their own discretion to families most in need to help with the cost of necessities, such as school uniforms. We will also continue to provide community grants for local projects, funding for community pantries and the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme.”
As schools are responsible for their own school uniform policies, the County Council also committed at the meeting to actively remind all Hampshire schools of statutory guidance in relation to keeping down school uniform costs. This includes minimising the need for branded items, and ensuring clothing is available from suppliers which have evidenced their value for money.
Hampshire residents concerned about their finances are encouraged to visit the ‘cost of living and money worries’ advice page on the Connect to Support Hampshire website - which signposts to a wide range of local and national support and advice services. Further information is available from the County Council’s Help with the Cost of Living web pages, which contain advice and information about a range of issues from debt management and finance support to mental wellbeing.