By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter
Bromley council appears to have ruled out providing free school meals for children over the half-term break, with the authority instead insisting other measures are in place to support struggling families over the holidays.
It comes despite calls from Bromley’s Labour group to follow the lead of other local authorities, including neighbours Greenwich and Lewisham, to step in and provide meals for children who may otherwise go hungry during the school break.
In a statement issued by Bromley council on Sunday, Cllr Peter Fortune, the authority’s deputy leader and executive member for children, education and families, said residents shouldn’t “mistakenly think that…(council) support ends when the school days ends”.
“So much is going on behind the scenes here to support families who need it. We are in close contact with schools who do refer families to us from time to time,” he said.
“Support does not and should not start or end with food, it is much more than that.
“We are supporting our most vulnerable children and families not just in school time but as needed, with this support actually already enhanced as part of our response to the pandemic anyway.
“Residents should not mistakenly think that somehow support ends when the school day ends, with much of the council’s work actually quite distinct from what happens in school and not confined to the part of the weekday when schools are open.”
Parents are encouraged to contact the council if support was needed, the council said.
“Families known to the council are being supported both through support services and activities in half-term, with this work continuing.
As part of this, vouchers can be given virtually, if needed, with families able to get in touch as needed,” the statement added.
However the response faced criticism, with Lewisham West and Penge MP Ellie Reeves among those responding by saying: “Not good enough Bromley. Not nearly good enough.”
Bromley Labour had earlier called on the council to “do the right thing” and commit to providing free school meals, saying the borough had 4,500 students claiming the benefit in 2019.
It comes after the trio of Conservative MPs representing Bromley – Gareth Bacon (Orpington), Bob Stewart (Beckenham) and Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) – were among the 61-vote majority who turned down Labour’s motion last week to provide free school meals nationally during the holidays.
“It is a popular and easy move for the Labour Party to lampoon the Government on this matter when in truth it has done quite a lot to alleviate child hunger already,” Mr Stewart said in a statement over the weekend.
“The Government has thus already given extra money to those that need it to feed their children and, although free school meals is headline catching, it is not the best way of ensuring children are fed.”
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