By Will Brook
Southwark town hall leaders have announced they will fund free school meals for hungry children over half term.
Borough leader Cllr Kieron Williams made the announcement last night (Oct 22) on Twitter, and the post was then retweeted by Manchester United striker and child hunger campaigner Marcus Rashford, 22.
Cllr Williams’ tweeted: “Delighted to say @lb_southwark will fund free school meals this half term.”
“It’s the decision the Government should have made yesterday, since they’ve failed we’re stepping in today to help #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY”
“We’ve just written to all schools with full details.”
The announcement came the day after the government rejected a labour motion to extend free school meals for children over school holidays.
The decision was voted down by 322 to 261, with prime minister Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson helping block it.
The motion would have provided 1.4 million disadvantaged children in England with a £15-a-week food voucher until Easter 2021. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffery said in Parliament this week: “we have undertaken significant ways to help the most vulnerable children in society”, and that £9.3 billion has been spent on welfare during the pandemic.
This vote marks a set-back for child hunger campaigns aimed at raising the issue above politics.
In May, Kennington teenager Christina Adane’s petition for free school meals during the lockdown half term eventually received backing from the government, and kick-started Marcus Rashford’s involvement with the campaign.
Christina tweeted yesterday: “As always, the government has managed to politicise an issue of basic rights.
“If voting 4 children to go hungry is something that the govt can get away with, it says as much about us as it does them.
“Support us, the youth, in fighting food poverty.”
Southwark residents showed support for the council’s announcement. One said: “Southwark resident here, and delighted to see our council taking what is clearly, obviously, the morally right thing.”
Lambeth has also added itself to the list of councils providing free school meals to all children who need them over half term.
The move, set to cost about £165,000, comes after the Government rejected a Labour motion to extend free school meals over school holidays.
Lambeth announced on Friday (October 23) it will send out food vouchers to more than 10,000 children.
Councillor Jack Hopkins, Lambeth Council leader, said “now is the time for compassion”.
“I was really disappointed this week that the Government refused to support plans to give all children who need it free meals over the school holidays.
“Lambeth council will step up where there is a failure of national action, just has we have done throughout this pandemic.
“We will ensure every child who needs it gets free school meals for half term next week. Our schools provide a vital safety net for many struggling families, but we know that gaps remain in that safety net in particularly during school holidays.
“Levels of poverty are only increasing due to the economic hardship of the Covid-19 pandemic and now is the time for us all to recognise the need for compassion and support for all,” he said.
Cllr Ed Davie, Lambeth’s cabinet member for children and young people, described the 22-year-old’s campaign to end child food poverty as “powerful”.
“We’ve seen a powerful national campaign by Marcus Rashford that has forced action on the issue of child food poverty.
“This week we saw the limits of the government’s willingness to act – so Lambeth will do so, just as we have done during summer holidays for many years.
“Alleviating holiday hunger is a key part of tackling child poverty – and the desire to ensure such inequalities no longer exist in our communities is what drives this council.
“The council will fund the scheme, costing approximately £165,000 and distribute it via vouchers. It will support over 10,000 children from families on low incomes,” he said.
Hammersmith & Fulham are also implementing a free school meals scheme.
Tesco vouchers will be given to thousands of low-income families next week to stop children going hungry.
With unemployment rising in the capital, the £15 vouchers will be offered during half term (October 26-30) to families of children entitled to free school meals.
Councillor Larry Culhane, the Labour council’s cabinet member for education, said: “We’ve been doing a lot of work on food poverty for a few years now… a lot of the groundwork was already there.
“We turned the whole thing around really quickly. Tesco got the vouchers to us yesterday and we’re distributing them in school today, so thanks to Tesco for getting them turned around super quickly, within hours.”
Asked if the council will offer the same help over Christmas, Cllr Culhane said: “I hope the Government realises it made a massive mistake. Hopefully they will think ‘maybe we got this wrong’ and step in at Christmas. But we will do everything we can, we won’t look the other way.”
He added: “It’s great that Marcus Rashford stood up for children and we’re happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him and other authorities and businesses who are helping. Although I wish he played for Fulham.”
In addition to the vouchers, the council will also deliver breakfasts to 600 local pupils who are “most in need”.
The council said there has been a 22 per cent increase in demand for free school meals in the past year, which is expected to increase due to the economic consequences of the pandemic.
The vouchers will be paid for using Section 106 money – which the council receives from negotiations with property developers who are given planning permission for large-scale developments.
The council has £33 million of proposed uses for Section 106 money between now and April 2023. Redevelopments of the Olympia and the Talgarth Road Magistrates’ Court are expected to net the council £14.5 million.
Hammersmith and Fulham already provides free breakfasts to all primary school children in the borough.
In January it launched a “pioneering” pilot scheme to give free lunches to all pupils at two secondary schools – Fulham College Boys’ School and Woodlane High School.
Elsewhere in the capital, Kensington and Chelsea Council has announced it too will pay for food for 3,300 children this half term.
- Wandworth have followed up with a similar scheme for its 900 school pupils Councillors have approved a £10,000 food voucher scheme to help hard-pressed and vulnerable families in the borough cover the cost of meals during the school holiday.This latest support mirrors a scheme launched by the same council in May which provided 20,000 supermarket food vouchers to ensure children eligible for free school meals didn’t go hungry during the lockdown.Wandsworth was the first town hall in the country to start a scheme in May, within two days of setting it up with an online voucher partner.Parents whose children have a social worker or are receiving support from the borough’s children’s services department will be eligible. After they have contacted council staff and been approved for support they will receive a voucher which can be redeemed in their supermarket of choice for food.The council’s schools and education spokesman Cllr Will Sweet said: “This new voucher scheme builds on the success of our previous scheme earlier this year and will deliver food for vulnerable children who might otherwise run the risk of missing out on all the nutrition they need.”
And the council’s cabinet member for finance Rory O’Broin added: “We have happily set aside the funding that’s needed to ensure children from some of our poorest families don’t go hungry this half term.”
- Nearly 3,300 children in Kensington and Chelsea are being given vouchers to pay for lunch during half term.The council is spending nearly £49,500 on £15 vouchers to pay for half term holiday lunches for children who would normally get free school meals.
Children will be given vouchers by their schools to cover the £3 a day normally spent on school lunches.
The money comes from the council’s covid contingency fund and a government grant to help communities weather the pandemic.
Earlier this week councillor Josh Rendall who has responsibility for family and children’s services said “every child in need” in the borough would be looked after.
He said: “Today (Friday Oct 23) children who normally receive free school meals will be provided with a voucher for the October half term. This is not a long-term solution, but this is an exceptional year and we know it has been a tough one for many families.”
Notting Dale ward councillor Judith Blakeman who raised concerns that school breakfast clubs and after school clubs were shut at half term, said she was also concerned about families with pre-school age children who are in need.
Kensington and Chelsea council is also offering help through its Early Help Service providing emotional and practical assistance, and Children’s Centre Hubs where families can get one-to-one support and children enjoy play sessions.
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