Why did Hertfordshire parents get less money for free summer school meals?

Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council will be providing vouchers to all childr

Hertfordshire County Council provided vouchers to all children who usually receive free school meals over the summer - Credit: ARCHANT

Hertfordshire parents whose children receive free school meals were given a £50 supermarket voucher to help with summer holiday food costs, but parents in neighbouring counties have been receiving significantly more money.

Thousands of children in Herts last year benefited from free school meals throughout  the holidays, thanks to a campaign from Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who pressured the government into changing its decision.

This summer HCC continued to provide free school meals over the summer holiday through digital vouchers which could be spent at major supermarkets, following funding from the Government’s Department of Work and Pensions.

However some parents have been left questioning why other counties have been receiving, in some cases, £40 more than they have.

"Is Hertfordshire a poor county?" asked parent Paula Bracher. "It certainly is very expensive place to live!"

She believes it is unfair that parents living only a mile away from her in Arlesey received an £81 voucher from Central Bedfordshire Council compared to the £50 voucher she received from Herts County Council.

Cambridgeshire parents were entitled to two £42 supermarket vouchers and Buckinghamshire parents received vouchers worth £70.

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Of the bordering counties Essex is the closest to Herts at £15 a week for four weeks - a total of £60.

A spokesperson for HCC said: “In Hertfordshire, we are committed to making sure that no child goes hungry and that families have access to a range of support to keep themselves and their children fit and healthy.

"The county council provided each child entitled to free school meals a £50 supermarket voucher to help with the cost of food during the summer holidays.

"In addition to this, we also invited every child entitled to free school meals to take up one of thousands of free spaces at our HAPpy Holiday Activity programme with more than 40,000 bookings taken in the first three weeks. 

“Since June, we have also provided £175,000 to local food banks and food poverty organisations, provided a further £325,000 to families using our early years and family intervention services, and put £464,850 into crisis support and targeted and specialist support for vulnerable families.

"Working with a range of local partners we are making sure that families in need of a little extra help can get support with things such as household essentials and utility bills, as well as the cost of food.” 

Council Budget

One possibility for the lower level of provision for the county's children may be due to the budgeting issues HCC is facing.

Earlier this year it was revealed that HCC is facing a predicted £22million hole in its budget after COVID-19, according to data obtained by the BBC. 

The authority warned that cuts would be needed and said that it would need to “find ways to deliver the same services with less resource”. 

Steven Pilsworth, assistant director for finance, said the authority was: “forecasting a balanced financial position for the current year”, but that a shortfall of £22m was predicted by 2023/4.

The financial strain can be highlighted through the number of children in Hertfordshire who were reported as living in relative poverty last year, which was 20,000 according to data from the House of Commons Library.

If HCC were to match Central Bedfordshire Council's £81 vouchers, an increase of £31, for the children who a reportedly living in relative poverty, they would need to spend an additional £620,000.

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