Funding for free school meals outside of term time will be guaranteed by the council when the government scheme ends. 

Wokingham Borough Council leader, Councillor Clive Jones, committed to the extra support during the latest meeting, explaining there is “no guarantee” the government will extend the grant beyond the summer holidays. 

The programme provides funds to ensure children who are eligible for free school meals during term time can get food over the holidays, replacing the meals they would have received during a school day. 

Cllr Jones said the support “will help many” of the circa 2,000 families in the borough who benefit from free school meals, which will assist parents with “budgeting and prioritising” their spending. 

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UK inflation reached 9.4 per cent in June, the highest rate in more than 40 years, as the cost of food, energy and transport soared.  

Food prices have been increasing at the fastest rate since March 2009, with essentials such as milk, cheese and eggs rising the furthest over the past year. 

The cost of milk and butter has climbed by more than 20 per cent since June 2021, leaving families struggling to meet the cost of living. 

The council has pledged to reallocate funding to ensure the help, in the form of vouchers, can be extended from the end of the summer holiday through to May 2023, which Cllr Jones says is “absolutely the right thing to do”. 

“Hopefully, there will be further government support during the school holidays but if there isn’t we will step in,” he added.

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The vouchers will be distributed to eligible families, to the value of £15 per child per week, and can be used at a variety of shops including Aldi, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and many more. 

The executive member for equalities, inclusion and fighting poverty, Cllr Rachel Bishop-Firth, said she is “delighted” with the pledge and hopes it can “help parents slightly” with the cost-of-living crisis. 

The vouchers, which are operated by fund and grant administrator Charis, can also be exchanged for cash at PayPoint locations – often situated in local shops, supermarkets and petrol stations.

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However, Cllr Bishop-Firth noted that the council is aware of some issues with this process. 

She stated that some smaller PayPoint providers have “had problems” exchanging the vouchers as they do not have enough cash on site to make payments, which the council is “working proactively” to provide solutions to.

Leader of the Wokingham Conservatives, Pauline Jorgensen, said the they had previously called for the government to "extend eligibility for free school meals" and called on the new administration to help try and secure this.

“There is always more that the council can do, and we’re happy to work with the administration to find ways to assist people experiencing difficulties with the cost of living,” she added.