This Private Members Bill (PMB) is about legislating to provide direct support to children entitled to free school meals and their families throughout school holiday periods.

Childhood hunger is a reality here in the North of Ireland. During school holidays up to 100,000 children are missing out on their free school meal. That is almost 1 in 4 school children.

In the north, a child is entitled to free school meals if their parents earn less than £14,000 a year or receive certain social security payments.

Families who are already struggling financially, are impacted by the additional cost of providing extra food for their children while at home during the school holidays.

The Trussell Trust food-bank network has reported that in Britain, holidays place extra burdens on family budgets with the loss of free school meals adding between £30 and £40 per week to parents' outgoings for one child.

The Trussell Trust confirmed a 17% increase in children in the north of Ireland using food banks during July and August compared to May and June, and this was before the onset of COVID.

This year the Trust reported a soaring 81% increase for emergency food parcels from food banks in its network during the last two weeks of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

The links between educational underachievement and deprivation are well known and the evidence suggests that children returning to school can often be weeks or months intellectually behind classmates who have access to a more wholesome diet during the holidays.

The onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency provided a unique opportunity to do things differently this year.

Direct payments have been made regularly to the families of over 100,000 children. Thousands of food parcels and cheques have been provided for those harder to reach families. The Executive found the mechanisms and the means to address holiday hunger this year and it is welcome that it has committed to addressing the issue of holiday hunger until Easter 2022.

Articles 58 and 59 of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986, as amended, require the Education Authority (EA) and Boards of Governors (BoGs) of Voluntary Grammar Schools (VGS) and Grant Maintained Integrated Schools (GMIS) to provide milk, meals and other refreshments and the facilities to consume them, in accordance with arrangements approved by the Department.

What is now needed is legislation to make a long-term commitment so that children who need free school meals, and their families, are supported to ensure children get the nutrition that they need to help them fulfil their potential beyond Easter 2022.

Sinn Féin want to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Consultation Ends: 11th February 2021

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* 1. The links between educational underachievement and deprivation are well known and the evidence suggests that children returning to school can often be weeks or months intellectually behind classmates who have access to a more consistent and wholesome diet during the holidays.

Do you agree that a child is more likely to do well in school if their family has greater food security during school holiday periods?

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* 2. Do you agree that it is important that children and young people have access to nutritional and wholesome food on a regular basis?

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* 3. Do you agree that greater food security would have a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of children and young people?

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* 4. 100,000 children who need free school meals have no access to the provision of these meals during school holiday periods.

Do you agree that children and young people who are entitled to free school meals should have this entitlement, or payment in lieu of this entitlement extended to cover school holiday periods?

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* 5. If you agree that those who need free school meals should have this support extended throughout school holiday periods, what form should the support take?

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* 6. During periods of school closure caused by COVID-19 a payment in lieu of free school meals was made via bank accounts for most parents, and via cheques for others. Do you agree that this scheme is now set up and working well?

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* 7. If you selected “regular payments equivalent to the cost of free school meals” – Do you think the payment should be:

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* 8. How do you think regular payments should be made?

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* 9. Do you agree that free school meal support over school holiday periods would alleviate some financial pressure from low income families?

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* 10. During periods of school closure caused by COVID-19, a payment in lieu of free school meals was made of £2.70 per school day on a fortnightly basis per child. This equated to a fortnightly payment of £27.

Do you believe this amount is sufficient in the context of extending this support to cover school holiday periods?

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* 11. Food costs are one source of pressure during school holiday periods for many families. What further support could alleviate some of the financial pressures faced by low-income families during these periods?

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* 12. A UK Supreme Court ruling said children in receipt of free school meals have special status under Article 14 of the European convention of Human Rights.

Do you agree that the special status of children entitled to free school meals should be protected all year round?

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* 13. The Welsh Local Government Association piloted a school holiday enrichment programme where children could attend school settings over the summer and access nutritious meals as well as take part in physical activities.

Do you think further such initiatives beyond that of financial support should be provided during school holiday periods?

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* 14. In order to roll out such initiatives do you think there is a need to expand community and voluntary organisation capacity in rural areas to deliver such programmes?

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* 15. If you do not agree with the proposal, what alternative would you suggest in order to achieve the policy objective?

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* 16. If you do not agree with the proposal as outlined, what adjustments could be made which would achieve your support?

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