LOCAL community groups, principals, and politicians have condemned the cancellation of a scheme that provides one meal a day for children who are entitled to school meals.
Since July 2020, families of 96,000 children across the North who are eligible for free school meals have received £27 per child each fortnight during school holidays.
The Holiday Hunger Grant scheme was designed to help low-income families with the cost of feeding children outside of term time.
Children are eligible for free school meals if their families have an annual taxable income of £16,190 or less or household earnings of less than £14,000 per year.
However the scheme was cancelled on Wednesday and at short notice by the Department of Education who said they no longer had funding to pay for the scheme.
Two principals of Tyrone primary schools have said that it is ‘regrettable’ and ‘sad’ that these schemes have been cancelled.
Oonagh McNelis the principal of Sion Mills Primary School said that these payments were ‘vital’ so children had at least one good meal a day.
Speaking to the Tyrone Herald Ms McNelis said, “I think the funding being cancelled for this scheme is incredibly sad.
“Parents are in real need; people do not have the money to pay for the extra expenses that will occur over the holiday period.
“The Holiday Hunger Grant ensured that children had one good meal every day throughout holiday times so it is very regrettable that this scheme has been scrapped.”
Similarly, Briege Daly who is the principal of All Saints Primary School outside Omagh said that she understood that the scheme could not ‘last forever’ but believed that cancelling the scheme at this time was the ‘wrong decision’.
Ms Daly said, “I acknowledge that the people in charge of the department have budgets that they need to work with but cancelling this scheme at this time is the wrong decision.
“People are in real need out there because of price increases and the school holiday will only add to this.
“I can not see how cutting this scheme is justified.”
The Trussell Trust supports a UK-wide network of food banks, including one in Dungannon. They say the cancellation of this scheme will put families under severe amounts of pressure.
Manager Ally Moore said that this decision will result in families using their services even more.
Mr Moore said, “The decision to cancel the ‘Holiday Hunger Grant’ will make families who are already struggling struggle even more.
“People are already under pressure to make ends meet and make sure their children have enough food.
“We are currently feeding 71 families a day.
“I hope the Department revisits this decision and ensure funding for this scheme.”