The island’s Children’s Champion is concerned that no funding has been allocated for free school meals over the summer.

Ministers explained in Tynwald last week that the scheme which provided meals for children who attended certain activities last year ‘no longer exists’.

Kerry Sharpe says she ‘cannot understand why’ it’s not automatically happening again, ‘given its success’.

‘I will be seeking answers as to how Government plans to fill this gap,’ she said. ‘The holiday activity and food pilot seems to have been very successful, in my opinion. 1,143 children attended over 85 sessions during the school holiday period.

‘As Marcus Rashford pointed out in the UK, children who rely on free school meals don’t suddenly stop needing them during the holidays.

‘The programme provided activities for children, meaning they also had fun, exercised and made friends – away from any screens or devices.

‘The programme also demonstrated joined-up working between Cabinet Office, Public Health, the Department of Education Sport and Culture and outside agencies, a model which could work really well for other issues affecting children.

‘If there is to be no further funding this year, how will these 1,143 children be guaranteed at least one nutritious meal each day?’

Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse wanted to know how much had been spent and if there is a holiday project for children on free school meals planned for this summer.

Cabinet Office Minister Kate Lord-Brennan said the summer holiday activity and food programme was coordinated by her department, Public Health and the Department of Education, Sport and Culture.

She added that £55,000 was awarded in total to organisations participating in the scheme to provide holiday activities and food over the summer holidays.

The funding was provided from the soft drinks industry levy, receipts of which are ringfenced and made available to Public Health for health improvement activities, the minister explained.

Ms Lord-Brennan said: ‘In general, there is no central funding available for such schemes or the provision of free school meals over the summer holiday period.

‘It was definitely worth getting this pilot underway and learning from it.

‘The conclusion after a review of that has been that it should be a pilot and that sort of scheme should be considered as part of the youth strategy that is being advanced by DESC.’

Mr Moorhouse asked the same of Education Minister Julie Edge, who said that Manx Sport, Recreation and Youth Services have done holiday activity schemes for many years.

‘The department’s range of summer activities run by MSR and Youth Services will go ahead this summer as always,’ she added.

‘Although our holiday activity and food scheme was piloted in the summer holidays of 2022, this was a pilot and funding which covered this was for the 2022 summer holiday period only and no longer exists.

‘My department is currently not in the position to offer this element of the provision in summer of 2023 without further funding being allocated.

‘The expansion of provision and funding required for summer 2024 will be explored and documented within my department’s next financial plan.

‘The department does not have any funding to provide any further provision in summer 2023.’