woman in white long sleeve shirt standing in front of vegetable stand
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Extending free school meals (FSMs) to vouchers during holiday periods would likely cost under £400,000, plus administration costs, according to new calculations published by the Manx TaxPayers’ Alliance.

“Providing a safety net for families in need is one of the highest and best uses of taxpayer money,” said Michael Josem of the Manx TaxPayers’ Alliance. “This new public tool allows candidates for Tynwald to easily estimate how affordable this policy is, especially compared to the extravagant wastage of Manx taxpayer money on other boondoggles.”

To help prospective candidates for the Isle of Man’s national elections build estimates of the cost of such a policy, the Manx TaxPayers’ Alliance has published a handy and transparent calculator for estimating the cost. The calculator is embedded below, and can be downloaded and used by any member of the public or candidate.

This handy Manx TaxPayers’ Alliance calculator uses a number of default settings described below, but anyone can adjust the assumptions as they see fit.

Manx residents who wish to apply for free school meals are able to apply online here, where information about eligibility is provided.

Number of students

Earlier this year, the Minister for Education, Alex Allinson, revealed in response to a question from his fellow member for Ramsey, Lawrie Hooper, that there were 2,205 students eligible for free school meals in January 2021. This was a rise of 4.9% from the 2,102 eligible students in January 2020, before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Isle of Man.

Allinson confirmed that eligibility for FSM is tied in part to unemployment benefits, so as unemployment drops, we can expect eligibility for FSMs to drop. We have used 2,132 as our default number of eligible students, based on the by-school breakdown published by Daphne Cain in 2018, because that allows differentiation between primary and secondary school students. It is within the range of FSM-eligible students between January 2020 and January 2021, and is likely to be in the vicinity of FSM-eligible students for the beginning of the next Tynwald.

Other assumptions are also reasonable – feel free to adjust the numbers in the calculator below as you see fit!

Cost per student

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Isle of Man Government has quoted various but similar costs of vouchers for each student. In March 2021, during the third (Cabinet Office) lockdown, the Isle of Man Government quoted a weekly voucher cost of “£11.75 a week for primary and £14.75 a week secondary school pupils (sic)”. This is similar to, but slightly different to, the value of the 2020 vouchers, which provided “£23.00 for each primary school child and £29.00 for each secondary school child.”

We have used the more recent rate of £11.75 per primary student, and £14.75 for secondary students. Other assumptions are also reasonable, especially as some island supermarkets1 might offer a discount on the sale of vouchers of this magnitude!

Weekly value of vouchers

The weekly value of vouchers is simply the number of students multiplied by the value of vouchers that each student receives.

Redemption factor

Earlier this year, Julie Edge asked in Tynwald about the redemption rate of FSM vouchers through the lockdown periods. The Minister confirmed various redemption rates.

In the default calculator below, we use a redemption rate of 93%. We assume that participating supermarkets will not charge the Isle of Man Government for non-redeemed vouchers.

Weeks covered

You can choose the number of weeks covered by free school meal vouchers. By default, it is set to 15, which is roughly equally to the number of holiday weeks (12), plus the three mid-term breaks (3). You can adjust this default setting as you wish.

Annual Cost

This is simply the value of weekly vouchers redeemed multiplied by the numbers of weeks covered, and returns the likely annual cost of such a program, based on the assumptions that you have used. Using our default settings gives an annual cost of £381,602.25, but is reduced to just over £305,000 if vouchers are only provided on the 12 weeks of school holidays (excluding the mid-term breaks).

The Manx holiday hunger calculator

You can download this Google Sheets spreadsheet from here. Click on the “File” menu, and then “Download” to download it to your computer for your use.

Other costs

This calculator only considers the cost of vouchers. Other programme administration costs might include postage and staff time to administer the programme.

  1. Disclosure: The author, Michael Josem, is employed part-time by the Manx Cooperative Society to connect and communicate with local charities. The Manx Cooperative Society operates several food stores throughout the Isle of Man. No one at the Manx Cooperative Society has been consulted in the writing of this article, and this article does not represent the views of the Manx Cooperative Society.