Northern Ireland news

Children entitled to free school meals will receive school holiday food grant this summer

Children entitled to free school meals will receive a school holiday food grant this summer

CHILDREN entitled to free school meals will receive a school holiday food grant this summer, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has said.

It comes amid fears that thousands of families in the north would miss out on free school meal entitlement over the summer months due to the lack of an Executive at Stormont.

Ministers had originally agreed in 2020 to pay for meals for eligible children during the school holidays, but funding for the payments was only agreed until Easter 2022.

A decision by the DUP to abstain from nominating a speaker or a Deputy First Minister following last month's Assembly election due to disagreements over the Northern Ireland protocol has meant that no business can take place.

However, Ms McIlveen yesterday confirmed payments to families of 98,000 children will be given out over the summer holidays.

The £12.6 million summer holiday food grant will run from July 1 to August 31 with families set to receive £13.50 per week for each entitled child.

"School holidays can create significant financial pressure for parents on low incomes and the ongoing cost of living crisis is causing further strain on household budgets across Northern Ireland," Ms McIlveen said.

"That is why I am allocating £12.6million funding to provide the families of children entitled to free school meals with additional financial support over the summer holidays.

"At a time when many families are already financially vulnerable, this payment will help to ensure that more than 100,000 of our children and young people can continue to access healthy, nutritious food this summer.

"This is an anxious time for many low income parents and I hope confirmation of this payment will provide some reassurance to them and alleviate some of the pressure they are experiencing."

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said he was "glad that after months of campaigning we have now received confirmation that families of children who qualify for free school meals will receive this payment through the summer".

"This money will provide an important lifeline to families over the next few months, for many it will be the difference between being comfortably able to feed their child and having to endure stress and cutbacks elsewhere to make sure that their children can eat," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan also welcomed the payments for "children and their families who rely on these financial payments will continue to be supported over the summer holidays".

"Sinn Féin has a plan to make this support permanent for children and families to put an end to the uncertainty caused by the DUP's boycott of the Executive and the Assembly," he said.

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