The Tory government in England did a dramatic U-turn on Tuesday when it announced it will provide a voucher programme for the summer months.
It followed a campaign by Manchester Utd footballer Marcus Rashford who told of his family poverty as a child.
His heartfelt calls embarrassed the British Government to do an about turn on its previous stand not to fund the scheme over the summer.
Scotland and Wales have also committed to continue the scheme for children over the summer.
Last month, DUP Education Minister Peter Weir said it would cost too much to continue the payments over the summer.
He also said allowing the scheme to be extended would require approval from the whole of the executive.
The families of almost 97,000 children have been receiving payments of £27 every fortnight per child, since schools were closed.
First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will propose to the executive that the free school meals scheme be extended over the summer, if “the necessary finances can be secured”.
Speaking in the assembly, Mrs Foster said she was very sympathetic to the calls for the payments to continue, as she knew how important it had been to help families during the Covid-19 crisis so far.
There are growing calls from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and the Greens for the executive to extend the payments.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted today: “Glad the British government has u-turned on free school meals.
“Our Executive now needs to do the same.”
Sinn Féin Foyle MLA and the party’s education spokesperson Karen Mullan told the Assembly: “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.”
Green Party Councillor Simon Lee, who is a teacher, said the payment represented a “lifeline for many families,” calling for the schools meals payment scheme to be extended.
The Ulster Unionists have tabled a motion calling on the executive to introduce a scheme to tackle “holiday hunger”.
“If a child needs state intervention in May and June, they will need it in July and August,” said MLA Mike Nesbitt.
The Alliance Party said the payments must “not be lost”.Tags: