As both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19.
During this period, we are asking schools to support children who are eligible for and claiming benefits-related free school meals, by providing meals or food parcels through their existing food providers wherever possible. However, we recognise that providing meals and food parcels is not a practicable option for all schools. That is why on 31 March we launched a national voucher scheme as an alternative option, with costs covered by the Department for Education.
Schools are best placed to make decisions about the most appropriate arrangements for eligible pupils, and this can include food parcel arrangements, alternative voucher arrangements or provision through the national voucher scheme.
Edenred has reported that over £70 million worth of voucher codes has been redeemed into supermarket eGift cards by schools and families through the national voucher scheme as of Tuesday 12 May. Edenred has also reported that over 16,500 schools had placed orders for the scheme as of Tuesday 28 April. We do not collect data on the scheme at pupil level.
The number and proportion of students who qualify for free school meals is published in the ‘Schools, pupils and their characteristics’ publication and its underlying data files. As of the 2019 school census, there are 2,833 primary school students in Bexley who were eligible for and claiming free school meals, 184 special school students, and 2,323 secondary school students. Statistics for the 2020 school census are not yet available. The 2019 publication is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019.
These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.