£5m Christmas support package unveiled for Norfolk’s families in need
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A multi-million pound support package aimed at ensuring Norfolk’s children do not go hungry over the winter period has been unveiled.
More than £5m in funding has been ring-fenced in a bid to “give families peace of mind” in the run up to Christmas.
It comes following a tireless campaign led by England and Manchester United footballer, Marcus Rashford, which has called for children from poor families to get free meals during school holidays.
Norfolk County Council (NCC) officials are set to work with Edenred, a leading distributor of food vouchers, to support all those eligible for free school meals throughout the festive break.
The scheme will also benefit children in early years settings who receive pupil premium, as well as the council’s care leavers.
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As it stands, 17,000 school pupils, early years children and care leavers are registered for free school meals, but it is being emphasised that anyone can apply for support.
Details of a wider package are set to be revealed next week.
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County council leader Andrew Proctor said: “We know this is going to be a tough winter for many people in Norfolk, with the impact of Covid hitting many in the pocket.
“There are people in our county who have never needed help before, but have been left experiencing hardship because of the virus.
“The voucher scheme is important, but we know hardship right now is being faced by a wide range of vulnerable households across the county worrying about paying the next utility bill or the next food shop due to the pandemic.
“Therefore, we will also be launching a wider package of support for winter over the coming weeks”
Of the £5.35m cash pot, £1m comes from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with £200,000 of the grant allocated to Norfolk Community Foundation and £800,000 to the Norfolk Assistance Scheme (NAS).
A further £500,000 Covid grant from central government, £2.7m from the Covid Winter Grant Scheme and £1.15m from the county council’s core budgets make up the remaining funding.
Despite the Conservative-led council pledging a significant sum, Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor and spokesman on children’s services, said his party was “not convinced” the package would cut it.
He added: “The council has been dragged kicking and screaming to help hungry children by Marcus Rashford, umpteen community voices and Norfolk Labour councillors.
“We nonetheless welcome this long overdue respite for families needing help.
“Having been in denial for months that it is good, Norfolk’s Tory leader finally accepts his responsibility for helping feed hungry children. Perhaps one day he might join Labour councillors, who have been helping families on the frontline since the first lockdown began.
“However, we are not convinced the amount allocated will cover the expected steep increase in numbers of children and families needing support. We will be watching carefully as the projected winter increases become a harsh reality.”
Information on how to access support is available at norfolk.gov.uk/coronavirus or by calling 0344 800 8020.
The county council is encouraging more families to register and apply for free school meals so they begin to receive support in time for the Christmas holidays.
To register or find out whether you are eligible, visit norfolk.gov.uk/education-and-learning/schools/school-meals-and-milk.
As part of the wider support package, NCC will be further extending the NAS, which already provides support for food, fuel, clothes and other essential items to those experiencing hardship..
For more information visit norfolk.gov.uk/NAS, or call 01603 223392 (option 5) to speak to someone or leave a message.