A decision by the Department of Education to cut children’s support programmes across Northern Ireland with a single day’s notice has been branded “outrageous”.
Principals were informed this morning (Thursday) that funding for the Healthy Happy Minds Pilot and the Engage programme would cease from tomorrow (March 31).
It has also been confirmed that School Holiday Food Grants (SHFG) will cease from tomorrow ahead of the Easter break.
Families of 96,000 children eligible for free school meals have, since July 2020, received £27 per child each fortnight during school holidays.
However, the department said it can no longer provide the support to those low-income families due to funding.
SDLP Craigavon representative Jackie Coade – who is also a school teacher – said the decision was “absolutely outrageous”.
“To do so with a single day’s notice to principals, staff and the parents that rely on them is totally unforgivable,” said Ms Coade.
“I understand the challenging financial position that the Department of Education is in but what about the financial situation facing thousands of families?
“Cutting holiday hunger payments right before the Easter break will be devastating for low income families across the north. Community and voluntary groups are often expected to pick up the pieces in these situations, but as many face the loss of EU funding this could create a real crisis with families being left with nowhere to turn and struggling to put food on the table.
“Ending Healthy Happy Minds and the Engage programme will leave kids that need a bit more support in a terrible situation, not to mention the staff that rely on this funding.
“There are serious questions about the way the Department has approached this issue but the significant cuts to education budgets come from the British Government and local politicians have been paralysed by the political strategy adopted by the DUP.
“These are the real world consequences of a failing political system. We all have to resist this and we have to dedicate ourselves to building a better kind of society that allocates resources to our children to ensure they have the best possible start in life.”
A spokesperson for the Department said: “The department recognises the important support the SHFG 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 spokesperson added that the Department is “facing an extremely challenging budget” but that they “will continue to work with other government departments and agencies in efforts to tackle holiday hunger in the future”.