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U.K. Families Are Still Struggling to Get the Free School Meal Vouchers They Need

Previous criticism of the government’s food voucher scheme from schools and parents grows louder

School meals, whose free voucher scheme continues to fail
The free school meal voucher scheme is still a mess, according to parents and schools
Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images

Government free school meal scheme remains beset by problems

The government’s free school meal voucher scheme for families in need while schools are closed is under further pressure, following Manchester United and England star Marcus Rashford’s successful campaign to extend free school meals through the summer holidays. Parents and schools, who have already spoken of failing vouchers, limited redemption, and a lack of help when things go wrong are now struggling with a prohibitively expensive helpline and further technical difficulties, according to the Guardian.

Multiple school leaders cite problems with the scheme’s website, run by private contractor Edenred. With 1.3 million children qualifying for the scheme, parents say the site is frequently overwhelmed by traffic, which caused problems early on in coronavirus lockdown and left families without vouchers for weeks. The helpline designed to support any issues initially cost £60/hour — four weeks’ worth of vouchers — but Edenred says this has now been reduced to £21/hour.

There are problems too with its limited scope for redemption — which focusses on big supermarkets — leading some schools to stretch their budgets while giving money to parents directly instead.

Despite sustained criticism, the government points to £183 million being redeemed throughout lockdown as a sign of the scheme’s success. This amounts to around £141 per eligible child across three months. [Guardian]

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