The Council is working closely with the Welsh Government and other key partners, as well as our local communities, to offer support and advice during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about what we are doing to support pupils normally in receipt of Free School Meals; people who have been told to shield themselves by the Government and other vulnerable people in Blaenau Gwent.
Q) My child/children normally receive Free School Meals – what is happening now schools are closed?
A) The Council, together with Welsh Government, is working to ensure that all pupils who normally receive Free School Meals in Wales are still accessing a meal at this time. Until recently, this was in the form of a daily packed lunch which was picked up from a local distribution centre or delivered to those self-isolating/shielding. This has now changed to a delivery of a weekly food box, which is full of the essentials to make healthy nutritional family meals. If you have any queries about your food box delivery please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
From May 4th 2020, the weekly food boxes will be replaced by a direct payment into the parent/carers bank account. The weekly payment of £19.50 per child is designed to cover nutritious meals (breakfast & lunch) for these pupils.
Q) Who is eligible for the new direct payments?
A) Essentially, parents/carers of all pupils who qualify for Free School Meals, and are in full-time education from Reception to Year 11, are eligible for these payments. Pupils have to attend school in Blaenau Gwent for this scheme. For more information and how to apply go to https://www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk/en/resident/emergencies-crime-prevention/coronavirus-covid-19-latest-education-information/
Applications can be made on line using this link - https://iweb.itouchvision.com/portal/f?p=customer:category_link:::::CUID,LANG:A2B40E379272FB6820B9E9053140A1A8C0CCEBC8,EN&P_LANG=en
The first round of applications ends at 5pm on Friday, 17th April 2020. If the application is late FSM children currently in receipt of weekly food boxes will continue to receive these until the application has been processed, which may be after 4th May 2020.
If you are experiencing difficulties completing the online application then please contact your local Childcare Hub who will be more than happy to assist. Details of the hubs can be found here - https://www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk/en/resident/emergencies-crime-prevention/coronavirus-covid-19-latest-education-information/
Q) My children do not have Free School Meals, but we are struggling financially due to the effects of Covid-19?
We understand that due to the strict Government control measures, and the closure of many places of work, that circumstances may have changed for some families and they may require additional support to get through these difficult months. Your new household income may mean that you are now entitled to claim some benefits & also qualify for Free School Meals and we would encourage you to get in touch with us on 01495 311556 to find out if that is the case.
Due to increased applications there may be delays in accessing this additional income and we are working as a Council, together with a range of partners, to look at what support could be offered in the short term.
Q) My reduced income does not entitle me to any benefits, but we are still struggling during this time. What can I do?
A) We understand that there are families who won’t be able to access benefits, but who are also experiencing financial difficulties. We are encouraging these families to please contact us on 01495 311556 if they are struggling. We have Locality Response Teams working across the county borough who signpost families to support which may be available within their community and help them access this support, such as local foodbanks.
We would also encourage you to make sure you are receiving the full support you are entitled to from your employer during this period. The UK Government has provided businesses with funding to retain staff on 80% of their current wage. You can find more advice about employment rights here - https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/coronavirus-if-your-employer-has-told-you-not-to-work/
Q) How come my child was getting a packed lunch, and these new arrangements are only available to pupils having Free School Meals?
A) The Welsh Government directive was to provide a meal for pupils in receipt of Free School Meals and the most vulnerable pupils. Blaenau Gwent initially made the interim decision to provide a packed lunch to all pupils that required them, regardless of their eligibility for FSM’s. Unfortunately, we were unable to continue with this level of provision when we moved to weekly food boxes and when we shortly move to direct payments. However, we are trying to work with families experiencing financial difficulties to explore other potential avenues of support.
Q) Do I get one weekly food box for each Free School Meal child in my family?
A) The food boxes are allocated to each family as follows:
- One child - one food box
- Two children - one food box
- Three children - two food boxes
- Four children - two food boxes
- Five Children - three food boxes
Q) What food items are included in the weekly food box?
A) Each food box contains two bread loaves, 12 eggs, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, mushrooms and four pints of milk.
Q) How are some elderly & vulnerable people receiving free food boxes delivered to their door?
A) The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has written to 80,000 people across Wales, (2,500) of these in Blaenau Gwent, advising them that due to pre-existing medical conditions they need to take extra precautions against catching Covid-19. Therefore, they have been advised to completely shield themselves and not go out at all for 12 weeks. Many of these people will have support from family and friends and help with daily tasks. However, some of these people may be alone or may be living with another family member who has been advised to ‘shield’ and so everyday tasks such as getting food and medication becomes difficult.
The Welsh Government has established a services that will deliver free weekly food boxes for this group of residents. People in receipt of the shielding letter should contact us on 01495 311566 if they want to register to receive the free food box. We are also proactively contacting these people to find out what support they have, and what support they need.
Q) I haven’t received a letter but I’m really struggling, or I know someone who is struggling.
A) We know that not everyone who needs support at this time will have received a letter advising them to shield, so we have set up new Locality Response Teams across the county borough whose aim is to connect vulnerable residents with the support available within their community. This could be shopping, picking up medication or needing someone to walk their dog. Or they could just be lonely, frightened and need to talk. If you need support, or you know someone in your community who does, then please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01495 311556.