Thousands of children in Birmingham are going hungry due to ongoing problems with the government’s roll out of free school meal vouchers for the children from low-income families and those on benefits. Despite the government’s improvements to the scheme, Birmingham schools are still reporting problems with Edenred, the company administering the scheme on behalf of the government.
Preet Kaur Gill, the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, has heard from schools in her constituency who have reported issues over recent weeks, including complaints from parents that Edenred’s website was “a nightmare to use”, with some having to wait up to four hours to access the website. Other issues included receiving the vouchers late after days of waiting, sometimes not receiving the vouchers at all, and some reported not being able to redeem them at shop tills or online. Edenred has also been accused of being slow to respond when issues are raised by schools and parents.
It has also emerged that the government will not be funding the free school meals over half-term at the end of this month, which will affect the more than 60,000 children in Birmingham who rely on this scheme.
“Although it is encouraging to hear that access to vouchers through Edenred’s system has improved, it is clear, from what schools and parents are telling me, that problems still persist.
“Free school meals are a lifeline for the thousands of children and families in Birmingham and across the country who rely on this scheme. For some children, a free school meal will be the only proper meal they receive that day.
“Delays in receiving the vouchers and the withdrawal of this support during half-term will mean many more children will go hungry during this crisis. The government must rethink its decision and not withdraw this much-needed support.”
One school in Preet's constituency told her:
“Whilst I can report that the speed and access to the system generally appears to be improving, we continue to experience problems, most recently with delays in the vouchers for last week. These vouchers were ordered for delivery on 7 May, but Edenred have told us that they had a problem with their system last week, and that orders would be received no later than 13 May. Regretfully these failed to arrive yesterday and we are now advised that they will be with us today.”
Birmingham City Council has encouraged any schools still experiencing problems with the voucher scheme to contact them as they can provide emergency vouchers.