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Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

Free School Meal provision in NI and in England | NI's DFC food programme | response to Belfast hate crime | PSNI begging arrests

General  |  Wed Jan 27 2021

The government in England faced widespread criticism for tasking councils with covering Free School Meals during the February half term. It relaunched the Free School Meal voucher scheme in response to urgent pressure on the back of widespread media coverage of shockingly inadequate and cheap 'food parcels' given by firms under government contracts. In NI, the Education Authority confirmed that it will continue its practice of direct payments to parents of the over 100,000 children in receipt of FSM.

NI's Department for Communities allocated £4.5m for distribution of food to Community Food Providers including Foodbanks and other VCS organisations to address food insecurity between December 2020 and March 2021. Under-18s, carers, older people, those living with a disability, people who have lost income due to the pandemic and the clinically extremely vulnerable are priority groups under this scheme.

A devastating fire at the Belfast Multicultural Association in Donegall Pass in Belfast, which has been used for a food bank, a clothes bank and other activities, is under investigation as a hate crime. Staff reported that this is not the first such incident at the centre. The First and deputy First Minister called the attack 'despicable' and said they were doing everything possible to eradicate racism and hate crime. Within days nearly £60k had been raised to help the organisation rebuild.

An investigation by The Detail revealed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has continued sanctioning people for begging during the pandemic under the 19th century Vagrancy Act, with fines and more than a score of arrests between May and mid December. MLAs and charities strongly criticised the practice, given that poverty is rising sharply due to the impacts of the pan

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