Northern Ireland news

Charity hails positive holiday free meals promise

The executive has agreed to cover the cost of meals for eligible children during all school holidays

A CHARITY fighting to end `holiday hunger' has hailed a new free school meal promise as a major step.

The executive has agreed to cover the cost of meals for eligible children during all school holidays until April 2022.

The £40 million initiative will see about 100,000 families receive payments when schools are closed.

Grants will be paid directly to families to cover holiday periods, including mid-term breaks - approximately 20 weeks - between Christmas 2020 and Easter 2022.

The first grants will be issued the week beginning December 14.

Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) welcomed the announcement.

The charity said thousands of young people from low-income families relied on free school meals as their main source of nutrition.

During non-term time they could struggle to get enough to eat, CiNI Chief Executive Pauline Leeson said.

"We are delighted that the executive has taken this courageous decision and thank them for putting the needs of children and young people in receipt of free school meals first and foremost in their policy decision," she said.

"This is something we have been seeking to get implemented for years. Children in Northern Ireland has been delivering holiday hunger projects since 2016 as well as campaigning and lobbying to raise the profile of this issue.

"This is a major step for every parent who struggles to find the money for meals outside term time, every child and young person who might otherwise go hungry."

Education Minister Peter Weir said he welcomed the decision by the executive to support his proposal to fund a School Holiday Food Grant scheme.

"The issue of holiday hunger has become an increasing concern this year and I have worked, with my executive colleagues, to address this by providing food payments to families during the summer and Halloween holidays and indeed when schools were forced to close," he said.

"I realise the vital importance for children who normally receive a free school meal to have access to a nutritious meal without placing their family under further hardship in these difficult times.

"This is a very worrying time for families particularly those with school-age children and these payments will help to support them during school holiday periods. Access to a healthy nutritious meal should be a basic right for all children and it is vital that we continue this support to ensure children and young people come back to school after holiday periods, healthy and ready to learn. Their future depends on it."

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