A report to cabinet seeks approval to use £1,421,400 of government funding to provide families with youngsters on free school meals with £15 per week supermarket vouchers during the holidays.
If approved, vouchers will be provided up until the October half term 2022, including the upcoming May-June half term.
A further £250,000 will be used to help pensioners with the cost of living increase.
The cash comes from the government’s Household Support Fund, of which Rotherham Council has been allocated £2,489,029 for the six months from April until September 2022.
The money must be spent or committed by the end of September, and the grant is to be used to support households, particularly those including children and pensioners, who would otherwise struggle to buy food or pay essential utility bills or meet other essential living costs or housing costs.
The report, which was discussed during today’s (May 11) overview and scrutiny management board states that the remaining £817,000 is to be held in reserve, “to allow the council to assess progress with the above schemes and make further allocations in accordance with the grant conditions”.
When asked if the vouchers were adequate, Councillor Chris Read, leader of the council told the meeting they “don’t even begin to tackle that scale of [the] challenge”.
“Given the resource that’s available to us, it is a practical thing that we can do to target real, meaningful financial help at families that we know need it.”
Coun Read added that the free school meals scheme builds on “an established system”.
Councillor Robert Elliott, Rotherham Democratic Party member for Greasbrough, asked if there was any way that the council could expand the scheme to include families on low income wages.
“Free school meals are usually applicable to people on benefits, and I know for a fact people on low income wages are just as desperate to feed their children,” Coun Elliott told the meeting.
“I don’t know how we’d do it, but that is a concern of mine,”
Coun Read, in response, said: “I don’t know what the answer to that is,” adding that holiday hunger programmes were often primarily targeted at children who were entitled to free school meals.
“We have the food bank network … and we’ve got the piece of work ongoing around social supermarkets, trying to expand access to cheap food on a more sustainable basis.”
“I don’t know how we can devise a fair system for expanding access to free school meals in a way that’s affordable to us.”