Free school meals: response and details of local support

On Wednesday this week, MPs debated a Labour motion calling on the Government to extend free school meals over the school holidays.

Earlier this year, the Government was forced to commit to providing free school meals over the summer holidays in response to the pressures faced by many families during the pandemic. Labour believe that the Government should continue to fund this support in every school holiday between the October half term and Easter 2021. The pandemic has caused real challenges for many children growing up in families with low incomes, making this support more important than ever.

Along with all my Labour colleagues, I voted for the motion. All but 5 Tory MPs voted against and our proposal was defeated.

More than 1.4 million children benefit from free school meals. Nearly 900,000 eligible children live in areas now subject to tier 2 and tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions. Their families face an upcoming furlough cliff-edge, an inadequate replacement support scheme and the fear of growing unemployment. Before the pandemic, there were over 4 million children growing up in poverty. In the months ahead, that will only increase. Child poverty is a pandemic of its own.

We recognise these proposals for free meals will not end child poverty. They are a sticking plaster, but one that is urgently needed – by the 1.4 million children who could go hungry without them and by families worried about putting food on the table.

I pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue. This campaign is not over and the Government must reconsider.

Because of the Government’s refusal to do the right thing, some local authorities and businesses have stepped up to try and help, despite being hard hit by the pandemic themselves. So far:

  • Manchester City Council have said they will step in to fund the provision of a free lunch for qualifying children this half term. Families can apply using this link for £15 per child for the week, which can be accessed until 13th November.
  • Greater Manchester is joining Co-Op to provide 1,000 food vouchers across the city-region to young people who may need access to a meal during this half-term. Our Mayor Andy Burnham will share more information about this in the coming days.
  • Khandoker Restaurant in Didsbury have offered to put together free hot meals for families who are struggling. You can send them a message on their Facebook page.
  • Thyme Out Food Co in Didsbury are offering free kids packed lunches to those who need it. You can call the restaurant on 01614 348686 or go in and speak to staff.

As a society, we should not have to rely on foodbanks and the kindness of individual business-owners to ensure that children do not go hungry. But I am grateful to those stepping in to provide that vital service when successive Government policies have led us to this point.

If you know of any other businesses offering similar help, please contact my office and we will help to get the word out to those in need. And if you or someone you know are struggling with food costs, please contact my office and we may be able to support with benefits advice and/or a foodbank referral.

I can most easily be reached on jeff.smith.mp@parliament.uk.

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