SNP MSP Ruth Maguire has welcomed the announcement of a £30 million package of funding being made available to local authorities to support people facing financial hardship as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), including money to provide free school meals over the school holidays.

Local authorities will be given flexibility to use £20 million, previously held in reserve for the Scottish Welfare Fund, to support people in their communities.

A further £10 million has been made available by the SNP Government so councils can continue providing free school meals through the winter breaks with future funding confirmed to extend support over Easter.

More than 4700 children across North Ayrshire will benefit from extra funding to extend free school meals over the Christmas and Easter holidays.

On Wednesday, Tory MPs voted rejected a plan to extend free school meals into the school holidays, arguing that it was not the job of schools to “regularly provide food during the school holidays”.

The MSP for Cunninghame South said: “No one should be struggling to put food on the table, keep the lights on, or stay warm at home in the midst of this pandemic. With many households in North Ayrshire, and across Scotland, struggling at this time, it’s right to ensure that the right support gets to people at the right time in the right way.

“The Tories at Westminster had an opportunity to support thousands of families worrying about how they will put food on the table in the weeks ahead, but they refused to do so.

“It’s clear that Westminster has a lot to learn from the SNP’s approach to tackling food insecurity and building a social security system based on fairness, dignity and respect.”

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We know a healthy meal during the school day helps children to learn – but right now it’s an essential to support families at such a difficult time. This money will offer nutritious free meals for children or allow families to get food they desperately need.

“Those experiencing financial hardship can currently apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund and seek advice on which benefits they can receive. However, this will not be suitable for everyone: some people are not eligible for crisis grants or already receive the full benefits they are entitled to, while others may need immediate support with food and essentials.

“We are giving local authorities greater flexibility over funding held in reserve for the Scottish Welfare Fund, to support local action and address people’s needs. This may include supplementing local budgets for the Scottish Welfare Fund to meet demand, providing financial support to tackle food insecurity or to meet fuel costs, or boosting local funding for Discretionary Housing Payments.

“Additionally we are making further resource available to continue the provision of Free School Meals over forthcoming holidays, including Easter.”

COSLA’s spokesperson for Resources Councillor Gail Macgregor, and spokesperson for Community Wellbeing Councillor Kelly Parry said: “The impacts of the virus have not been felt equally across society and we welcome this funding which can be used flexibly by councils, enabling them to provide more support for those who need it most in our communities.

“Local authorities will deploy it in ways that best meets local circumstance, to provide the most effective support to those experiencing financial hardship, for example through grants, addressing food insecurity, or support for fuel costs. We know that as winter arrives and the furlough scheme draws to a close unfortunately more adults and children are likely to need assistance to ensure they are fed and warm. Local Government is the anchor in our communities and is able to provide advice, support and assistance to those that need it.”

Scottish Government School Meal Statistics by local authority

On 18 March the Communities Secretary announced £350 million of funding to support communities at risk as a result of the pandemic.

This included a £45 million boost to the Scottish Welfare Fund, of which £22 million was allocated immediately to local authorities, increasing the available budget for awards in 2020-21 to £57.5 million. A further £3 million has been committed as an increase to the budget available for Discretionary Housing Payments.

By enabling local authorities to be more flexible in the way they use this remaining £20 million, the Scottish Government are ensuring that they can support those with No Recourse to Public Funds who are destitute and do not have access to mainstream benefits.

The Scottish Government provided local authorities with additional resource to provide Free School Meals over the Easter and the summer holidays. By the end of the summer period 156,000 children were benefitting from this support, having peaked at around 175,000 prior to summer, providing vital support to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Local authorities who continued Free School Meal provision over October holidays will be reimbursed through this funding package.