THE Department of Education have confimed that holiday hunger payments for children who receive free school meals will be scrapped.

From July 2020 children who are eligible for free school meals have been able to receive £27 per child every two weeks to help pay for meals during school holidays.

The Department of Education confirmed it was ending the funding for the programme which will mean children and their families will not receive the support over the Easter holidays which begin in just over a week.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News this week principals in West Belfast schools expressed deep concern over the lack of funding for successful programmes provided through the West Belfast Partnership Board. The Department of Education also confirmed the ‘Happy Healthy Minds’ programme would also be cut. Another programme called ‘Engage’ which was designed to help children with learning following the effects of Covid-19 has also been cut.

Figures show that during 2022-2023 96,300 children in the North were eligible for free school meals – a number which accounts for 30 per cent of the entire school population.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: "The department recognises the important support the SHFG (School Holiday Food Grants) scheme has provided for low income families who are struggling financially, particularly with recent cost of living rises and realises the huge disappointment this will be for parents.

"The Department of Education is facing an extremely challenging budget. We will continue to work with other government departments and agencies in efforts to tackle holiday hunger in the future."

The announcement was condemned by MLAs in West Belfast.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: “The decision to cut funding for these vital initiatives is beyond cruel. Children will go hungry over the Easter break. Children in mental distress will go without counselling and support. That is the stark reality of these cuts.

“Tory budget cuts are targeting the most vulnerable children. The heads of the Department of Education need to grow a spine and refuse to implement them.”

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said the savage cuts were outrageous and unnacceptable.

“It’s totally unacceptable that vital support for children in our schools will be slashed as a result of savage Tory cuts to the budget.

“Payments to ensure children don’t go hungry over school holidays and programmes to assist young people with mental health and learning support will be lost.

“It is totally unacceptable that our public services have been left at the mercy of an unadulterated Tory Budget from London and our children and young people are now clearly paying the price.

"It is outrageous that our school leaders have only been given one day’s notice from the Department of Education that these programmes will be cut with no time to prepare for the destructive impact this will have.”