Oldham’s Liberal Democrat Councillors have backed a call from the National Education Union to the government to end school summer holiday hunger.
The councillors have co-signed a letter to the Prime Minister seeking the return of a special payment to poorer families of £15 per week for each child normally in receipt of means-tested free school meals. This is to provide families with extra food to compensate them for the loss of free school meals for that child during the summer holidays.
Commenting, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE said: “Last year, the government finally listened to the many voices, including ours, calling for an end to kids going hungry over the summer and did the decent thing by introducing this payment whilst Britain was in the grip of the COVID pandemic.”
“We are not out of the woods yet and things are still very tough financially for a great many people, especially in a poor place like Oldham. Making these payments again this year would not only be the right thing to do – it would be the humane thing to do as well. If the Prime Minister is serious about ‘levelling up’- Britain, then he needs to start by making sure none of Britain’s children goes hungry”.
Dear Prime Minister,
CC: Chancellor and Education Secretary
We write to you today because we believe action to counter food insecurity for children is urgent and can’t wait. There are 1.7 million children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) in England. Over half a million of those became eligible for FSM between March and December 2020 as the economic impact of Covid-19 took effect.
Food insecurity is a part of everyday life for many children eligible for FSM, and for those growing up in poverty in the UK, this bites particularly hard during periods of school closure.
The public have made their support for ensuring children receive FSM in the holidays really clear. More than one million people signed Marcus Rashford’s petition last year calling on Government to expand eligibility and access to Free School Meals.
Over the course of the pandemic the Government sensibly acknowledged the shocking reality of holiday hunger by expanding the FSM voucher scheme to include the Easter and summer holidays in 2020, as well as the week of the May half-term. And while the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is welcomed, it has limitations. Local authorities are only able to provide support to families for four days a week, across four weeks of the holiday, which is equivalent to 16 out of 30 weekdays.
We urge the Government to re-introduce the scheme implemented during previous school holidays, in which families were allocated £15 per child every week, to cover the entirety of the upcoming six-week summer break.
Come September, many children will come back to school hungry, malnourished and unable to concentrate. The Government has pledged to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t left behind – but a lack of regular, dependable nutritious meals has a huge impact on learning and engagement when children and young people return to school.
Government must act now – before the end of term – to confirm the direct funding for provision of the Free School Meals voucher scheme for eligible children over the summer holidays, to leave no child behind. School leaders need clarity as soon as possible.