A GOVERNMENT scheme to support families and children this winter worth £170mn has been welcomed across Northumberland.

Disadvantaged children will be provided with free school meals during the Christmas holidays after a Government U-turn.

The news has been welcomed by Northumberland County Council’s leader, Coun, Glen Sanderson.

He said: “I am delighted with this announcement; we have lobbied government directly for greater financial assistance, which will help us to continue to support the hardest hit during this pandemic, helping them to put food on their tables, heat their homes and pay bills.”

Hexham's MP Guy Opperman said the new scheme was an improvement on free school meal vouchers.

He said: “I am really pleased with this extension of support for vulnerable families in Northumberland, which builds on the existing local welfare scheme. This scheme will be delivered locally in Northumberland, not by Westminster. This is more targeted support than Free School Meal Vouchers, with funding for bigger and better interventions for families who need it.

"I am also pleased that the Prime Minister has announced the extension of the Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has a massive impact on disadvantaged young people in our community. This should give reassurance and comfort to anxious families.”

But Russ Greig, who runs the Miner’s Lamp Cafe and Community Hub in Prudhoe, believed more needs to be done to help those who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The organisation has been providing food for children in school holidays since the summer, and also operates a food bank service for those in need.

He said: “For families that are struggling at the moment, it’s a welcome relief. I think the fact that we’ve had such a massive increase in food bank use shows that people are really struggling.

“The Government are going to provide funding until Easter, but that doesn’t solve the long term issue of food bank usage. It’s a bit of a sticking plaster.

“People who aren’t eligible for free school meals are also struggling. They’ve lost income with furlough and a lot of people have lost their job and haven’t had the opportunity to apply for free school meals.

“For some people on furlough, that 20 per cent helped them keep their heads above water.

“There’s still a lot of work to do.”