I have always been clear that we need to look after those in most need and that none of us want to see children go hungry. To date, regardless of which party has been in power, free school meals have only been provided to eligible pupils attending school during term-time and it is important that these arrangements return. In addition ministers have made available 63m local authority welfare assistance fund to provide essential food and other items to those that need it, a fund which will be active over this half-term holiday.
I believe that support is best delivered to the most vulnerable families via the welfare system and discretionary grants. Since March, an additional £9 billion has been injected into the welfare system above and beyond normal levels of support to help those who are most vulnerable. Support has been directly targeted at those on low incomes. Ministers also made available £63m local authority welfare assistance fund to provide essential food and other items to those that need it, a fund which will be active over this half-term holiday.
The standard allowance for Universal Credit increased on the 6th of April from £317.82 to £409.89 a month. The basic element of Working Tax Credit has increased by £1045 to £3040 from 6th April 2020 until 5th April 2021, benefitting more than four million households. I should emphasise that payments to those who are self-employed are not currently calculated using an assumed level of earnings, called a Minimum Income Floor. Instead, they are based on actual earnings.
Regarding school holidays, over the summer, our Holiday Activities and Food Programme helped up to 50,000 disadvantaged children with free healthy meals and enriching activities. For the past three years we have been running these programmes in various parts of the country. We know from these schemes that some families do need extra support especially in the long summer holiday, but it is not all the children on free school meals that need the support. Indeed even when free food and activities are offered the majority of eligible children on free school meals do not take them up.
If we are planning any significant increase to the welfare state we need to engage with the taxpayer about how we can pay for this as it would almost certainly mean higher taxes. The alternative, of course, is that we spread welfare among many more people, which will mean that less will go to the people who are most in need.
You can watch my contribution in the debate here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/9953142c-b63e-4140-9912-db2bf9f0597e?in=18:18:00&out=18:21:10