School Vouchers

Parents and carers of children who are registered for free school meals on the island will receive vouchers to spend on groceries during the Christmas holidays.

The Christmas Holiday Food Voucher Scheme 2021, which will help more than 2,000 children, was approved by Tynwald on Tuesday. Parents and carers will receive two vouchers that can be used at any Shoprite store between 20 December and 3 January. The combined value will be £25.85 for a primary age pupil, and £32.45 for secondary and University College Isle of Man students. Both vouchers must be used before schools reopen on 4 January and free meals resume.

Minister Julie Edge said: ‘We understand that families on low income face financial pressures at this time of year, and hope this important scheme will help avoid holiday hunger.’

However this short-term measure doesn’t yet resolve the long-term issue of child hunger during half-terms.

Interest Rates

The Bank of England has raised interest rates for the first time in more than three years, in response to calls to tackle surging price rises. The increase to 0.25% from 0.1% came despite fears that the Omicron variant of Covid could slow the UK economy by causing people to spend less. The cost of living rose by 5.1% in the year to November, latest figures show. That was the highest rate since September 2011 and well above the Bank’s 2% inflation target.  However, one business group said the rate rise would do little to stop prices going up, since costs were being pushed higher by global factors largely outside the Bank’s control.

No Lockdown by Stealth

Boris Johnson has insisted England is not being put into lockdown by stealth, despite accusations from some of his own MPs.  The prime minister said he was not telling the public to cancel events, but urging them to exercise ‘caution’.

It comes as chief medical officer Chris Whitty suggested people “prioritise” activities in the run-up to Christmas. Conservative MP Steve Brine accused the government of ‘putting hospitality into effective lockdown’. Mr Brine said Prof Whitty’s comments meant businesses were facing ‘complete ruin’ and more government support was needed.

Tragedy

Five children have died and four others are injured after falling from a bouncy castle that was blown into the air in Australia, police say. The accident – caused by a wind gust – happened on Thursday at a primary school fun day in Devonport, Tasmania. Police said the children had fallen from 10m (32ft), with both girls and boys among the victims. Authorities did not give their ages but said all were in grades five or six – typically for children aged 10-12.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the accident as ‘unthinkably heartbreaking’.

‘Young children on a fun day out… and it turns to such horrific tragedy. At this time of the year, it just breaks your heart,’ he said.

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