CamdenNewJournal

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Free half-term meals for kids are ruled out

Opposition slam council chiefs for ignoring child poverty and ‘real hardship’

30 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

MP Karen Buck: ‘We know that applications for the free school meal voucher scheme are increasing in Westminster, and that there is real hardship being faced by more and more of our residents’

COUNCIL chiefs were accused of ignoring the “real hardship” in Westminster after refusing to fund free school meals for children during the half-term.

Local authorities across the country have supplied poverty-stricken families with £15 vouchers during the holiday on the back of the popular “end child poverty” campaign led by the Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Conservative-run Kensington & Chelsea agreed to pay for vouchers for eligible pupils, as did several Labour-run councils in the capital. Westminster did not. There are more than 5,000 children eligible for free school meals in the borough.

Labour MP for Westminster North Karen Buck said: “We know that applications for the free school meal voucher scheme are increasing in Westminster, and that there is real hardship being faced by more and more of our residents.”

The government had agreed to fund free school meals during the summer following the Rashford campaign but drew a line under extending the extra measures for the half-term. There are concerns, even in the 21st century, that many children in low income families do not get properly fed at home and rely on school meals for basic nutrition.

Cllr Tim Roca, Labour’s children’s services spokesperson, said: “Over 5,000 children… are eligible for free school meals, in a borough with some of the worst child poverty in London”.

A series of local authorities moved in with food voucher offers after MPs last week voted against extending free school meals during the holiday. Cities of London and Westminster MP Nickie Aiken voted against the plan in the Commons. In Westminster, food banks and volunteer-run aid prog­rammes have seen incr­eased demand.

Timothy Barnes, the lead councillor for children’s services and libraries, said: “Only a minority of councils in England are providing free school meals this week. In Westminster we are very concerned by the needs of some of our most hard-pressed families and young people and are providing direct support to families that need it most this half-term.

“Anyone requiring help can contact our family hub at Bessborough [Pimlico] for advice or support and those facing food hardship can request a food parcel that will be made available for collection the same day, just by calling 020 7641 5923 before 11am.

“We are fortunate to have a network of family hubs and youth centres that allow us to work in this way, which is not something that is possible in other boroughs.

“We’ve also been running activities every day for young people in our youth centres where all of those participating rec­eive a free meal. Our social care services continue to make financial support available to families in need, including food vouchers where appropriate.”

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