I applaud the work Mr Rashford has done to highlight the issue of food poverty, and I welcome that his efforts have been recognised with an MBE.
To help families through the pandemic, a vast package of support was brought in. The national free school meal (FSM) voucher scheme last year and this year has meant that eligible children continued to receive nutritious food during periods of school closure, and during the holidays. As students have returned to schools and colleges, those who are eligible will now receive free school meals in their educational settings. In cases where eligible children cannot attend school as they are self-isolating, schools should continue to provide free school meals support.
I am aware that concerns have been raised over the quality and quantity of the food provided. The Prime Minister and Education Secretary both made clear that the quality of some of the parcels, as seen on social media, provided was wholly unacceptable. The Department for Education investigated these reports urgently and I welcome that the food providers involved have vastly improved their parcels.
This is on top of support to protect 11.2 million jobs through unprecedented income support schemes and boosting welfare support by billions, including through an increase to Universal Credit of £20 a week. I am pleased that this increase to the standard allowance was extended, alongside both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, until September 2021. More than £230 million has also been given to councils to assist those struggling to afford food and essentials.
I am also encouraged that the Holiday Activities and Food Programme has been extended until Christmas 2021, with up to £220 million being made available to local authorities. This will mean all children eligible for FSM will have the option to join a holiday-time programme that provides healthy food and enriching activities. I was very impressed with the Holiday Activities and Food Programme events which I saw at Vandyke Upper School over the summer. Not only did the children get a healthy, freshly cooked meal, they also played a lot of sport and games as well.
Finally, in the longer term, Ministers are implementing the recommendation from the National Food Strategy to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers. These vouchers support pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy milk, fresh fruit and vegetables. As of April 2021, Healthy Start payments increased from £3.10 to £4.25.