The Government has given Northamptonshire an extra £62million in the last few months to meet additional Covid-19 local costs. This money is separate to the huge sums for the local NHS, job retention scheme, self-employed scheme, business loans, and much more.
The Government also gave a further £8.3 million to our Council, designed to support vulnerable persons’ and families’ welfare, and I am delighted to say that £255,015 of this sum was used to fund some 17,000 children in Northamptonshire with free school meals during half-term, which equates to £15 per child, per voucher.
All seven Northamptonshire MPs, including me, supported our County Council spending some of their extra money from Government in this way.
You may have heard that MPs voted against the Government funding Free School Meals. But that was only half the story, because what all seven Northamptonshire MPs supported, was that it should be Local Authorities that make this decision, where appropriate. I am very much of the view that local authorities – including Northamptonshire County Council – are more aware of changes in local needs, specifically with regard to those who are dependent on the State for support.
All seven Northamptonshire MPs encouraged and supported the Council to allocate some of their money from Government this way.
This follows the action that was taken previously to ensure that eligible children were still able to get free school meals during the period of prolonged school closures and indeed over the summer holidays.
The national voucher scheme, which was rolled out nationally, saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families, with over 20,000 schools placing orders. Indeed, during the lockdown I personally assisted schools in Northampton to obtain these free school meals vouchers.
I also welcome that, during this challenging period, the eligibility criteria for free school meals was temporarily extended. This included some groups who have no recourse to public funds. We continue to provide free school meals to 1.4 million children, and we have put an extra £9 billion into the welfare system during the pandemic to help families in need.
The additional £9 billion to the welfare system has allowed us to:
- Increase Universal Credit by £1,000 per year;
- increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180million fund to help struggling families with their rent;
- create a £63 million fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance; and
- award £16 million to food charities
This is all new and extra money that is going to families who are in need and I am in regular communication with school headteachers and leaders of the Councils here in Northampton to ensure the most vulnerable are provided with the support they need. It is important to look after the most vulnerable in society and that is what we have done throughout our time in Government.