UK parents whose children are eligible for free school meals will be able to receive digital vouchers they can use on their smartphone or tablet to buy food at participating retail outlets while schools remain closed during the country’s second lockdown, the UK government has announced.
The national voucher scheme will enable UK schools that are closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic to order single or weekly digital food vouchers worth £15 per child per week for eligible pupils via an online portal.
Schools can then either send the parent or carers an eCode that enables them to select an eGift card from a range of supermarkets, or schools can select an eGift card on a parent or carer’s behalf and supply it in print form.
“Once families have received their voucher, they will be able to redeem them in store at the selected retailer by either: presenting the voucher on a smartphone or tablet; or presenting a paper copy of the voucher,” the UK government’s website says.
“Families are free to select the most appropriate lunch for their child.”
Schools order vouchers by activating an account with digital benefits and voucher provider Edenred.
The national voucher scheme was originally launched during the first UK lockdown in April 2020, but was closed when schools began to reopen as pandemic restrictions changed after the summer holidays.
The reintroduction of the scheme follows controversy over the quality of food parcels introduced as an alternative to vouchers while schools are closed and unable to provide free meals directly.
“A row broke out after the mother, using the online name Roadside Mum, posted a photo on Twitter of two carrots, two potatoes, a tin of baked beans and a small range of other food items, which she calculated to have cost about £5,” the BBC reports.
“The post prompted others to complain about the quality and quantity of the food they had received in similar parcels.”
Schools can still opt for food parcels provided by catering companies, although “about 75% opt for vouchers”, BBC News reports the UK prime minister Boris Johnson as saying.