On Wednesday this week, MPs debated a Labour Party motion calling on the Government to extend free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021. This was following a campaign led by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford which was created after the Prime Minister rejected his pleas to extend the ‘Covid summer school fund’, calling for free school meals to be available for every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent. This would mean the meals reach an additional 1.5 million children aged seven to 16.
The motion was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61 however, did not defeat the spirit of Marcus Rashford, which has inspired local councils and businesses across the country to step in.
Bradford council is donating £20,000 to food banks across the district and is also working with community organisations to serve up more than 10,000 meals to vulnerable families during the October break.
The plan was announced by the deputy leader and portfolio holder for education, employment and skills, Councillor Imran Khan, who described it as “absolutely the right thing to do”.
Leader of Bradford Council Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe said, “At this time of national crisis it is the role of Government to step up and support those who are struggling most. We were very disappointed in the result of the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday. If successful this would have supported Bradford families. The resulting outcry has been huge. We have stepped in to help but it’s also great to see that businesses and voluntary sector organisations across the district are lending support. It’s a real team effort.”
Kirklees Council have also announced similar plans. The council have said money usually received through the free school meals voucher scheme will be paid to eligible families retrospectively.
They also plan to provide immediate food support and help for families who need it during the upcoming half-term. Families just need to contact the Hardship Fund by calling 08004561114.
The voucher system will then be in place as normal for our future school holidays for children who normally receive them during school time.
Councillor Carole Pattison, Cabinet Member for Children at Kirklees Council, said: “The means more than 14,000 children will not go hungry in Kirklees. It’s one of the easiest decisions we have had to make. We’re committed to giving children the best start in life and nutrition is vital to this.
“I’m deeply disappointed in the Government for failing to provide meals to hungry children during the holidays.
“Hunger does not end when schools break up. We will not sit by as children go hungry in Kirklees.
“We will never forget or ignore the struggles people are going through right now and if the Government won’t provide the funds to feed hungry children during holidays, we will.
“I’d like to thank Marcus Rashford for the outstanding work he’s doing in being a voice for those that desperately need support.”
Councils in the North East have also stepped in with Middlesbrough Council offering £15 towards the cost of food, for around 7,500 children who qualify for a free school meal over the half term period.
Mayor Andy Preston has pledged to make Middlesbrough a hunger free town and has vowed the Council will do all it can to support families through tough times, this half-term and beyond.
“I don’t see this as a political issue, or one of right vs left,” he said.
“No parents in Middlesbrough should have to worry about being able to feed their kids. That’s a simple fact. The October break is coming and we know these are extremely difficult times.
“Some people will be critical of the idea of us making cash payments, but when Middlesbrough families are in need, doing nothing isn’t an option.
“It is grossly offensive to suggest to many of the hard-working parents whose children qualify for free school meals that our emergency system will be exploited.
“Quite often as a Council there are things we’d love to do, but we come up against obstacles of funding or practicalities. In these exceptional circumstances we have found a way to do the right thing.
“When we can use our resources to be a force for social good, I will always push for us to do so.
“No child in this town should go without food, and we don’t want families to be left further behind by this Covid crisis.
“I’m determined that Middlesbrough will become a hunger-free town. Not just over half-term but for years to come.”
Newcastle City Council has also united with the campaign and has agreed to fund provision for any eligible child needing support.
Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “It was utterly despicable for MPs to fail to recognise that families need support to feed their children during school holidays.
“More and more families are finding themselves in extreme financial difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Free School Meals are often the only source of a nutritious meal for many children. Our most vulnerable residents have been hung out to dry.
“There are more than 13,000 eligible children in our city who the Government have turned a blind eye to. We are fortunate to have such an incredible community-spirit in our city that we can respond and do what we can to ensure no child is hungry this half-term.
Local businesses such Mumtaz Leeds, Pearls Tea Rooms, Manjaros Restaurant, with more joining the campaign to #EndChilFoodPoverty.
This has all been thanks to the continued interventions of Marcus Rashford, who recently became and MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list to end child food poverty.
The Manchester United striker has since formed a child food poverty task force which has linked up with some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and food brands.
He said: “Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs.
“Whatever your feeling, opinion, or judgment, food poverty is never the child’s fault. Let’s protect our young. Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children.”
He also wants holiday meals and activities to be expanded to an extra 1.1 million, and the value of healthy food vouchers for pregnant women to be increased from £3.10 per week to £4.25.
All we can say is thank goodness for heroes like Marcus Rashford.