Communities rally to feed hungry children as ministers leave them high and dry

Support us and go ad-free

After a shocking 320 Tory MPs voted to prevent children living in poverty from receiving free school meals during the holidays, local businesses, authorities and community groups are stepping in to plug the gap in duty-of-care. Meanwhile, ministers face a damaging grassroots Tory revolt over the issue.

Dozens of people from a range of organisations have stepped in to help their local communities. Health secretary Matt Hancock, who voted against the motion to feed hungry children, has leapt at the chance to praise their “absolutely wonderful” efforts. Meanwhile, he insists that the government has already provided millions to town halls to help their communities.

Piling on pressure

A petition from footballer Marcus Rashford, who has been spearheading demands for the extension of free meals in England over the school holidays, has passed 800,000 signatures, piling further pressure on the government to act.

Hancock told Sky News he agrees “very strongly” with “the purpose” of Rashford’s campaign, saying:

I think we’re all inspired by the way that he’s led that campaign.

Whilst Rashford is no doubt delighted that the health minister is theoretically in favour of feeding children, he did question the government’s willingness to engage with him on the issue. Hancock told BBC Breakfast that the prime minister had communicated with Rashford on the topic:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

But Rashford’s reply suggested they had not spoken since the government’s U-turn on providing food vouchers during the summer break in June:

Cold comfort

Hancock has also said that Universal Credit had increased by £20 a week, while central government has already provided £63 million to local authorities so that they can support people. He hinted that further help could be given, amid reports the government is planning a partial climbdown in time for the Christmas holidays. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

Our attitude and our purpose it to ensure that everybody gets the support they need and no child, of course, no child should go hungry, nobody could possibly want that. The question is how best to do it.

Hancock was challenged over whether decisions by councils, businesses and charities to step in showed that more direct action is needed. He apparently sidestepped the question, saying:

I think that’s absolutely wonderful that companies have come forward and are playing their part and supporting people in these very difficult times. I also think that it’s brilliant that the councils are coming forward, having been funded by central government, £63 million has gone to councils so that they can do exactly what you say, so that they can support people and make sure that everybody and every child gets the support that they need,” he said.

£63 million – a closer look

Despite rumours of a grassroots revolt among local Tory councils, Hancock persisted in his view that all was well, saying “of course” he welcomes the support from councils, “because that is the councils delivering with the funding that has been provided by central government”.

To put the £63m funding in perspective:

  • Greater Manchester alone has been granted a £60m relief package to help businesses affected by coronavirus restrictions. Local leaders originally asked for £90m.
  • The £63m funding is intended to cover all coronavirus related hardship; not school meals. Leaders of Warwickshire County Council said to the BBC that “they had already spent all the money allocated under the £63m fund… and it was not enough to fund school meals too.”
  • As The Canary previously reported, the government has squandered nearly a billion pounds giving out coronavirus related contracts to its friends. Much of that money has simply been wasted.
  • Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to subsidise MPs’ meals  – to the tune of £4.4m in 2018.
Communities stepping in
While government ministers stand by and applaud, humans are stepping up – despite their own hardships  – to feed hungry children in their communities. First stepping in to help include Barry’s Tearoom in Cumbria, Greenfields Farm in Telford, The Watering Can in Liverpool, Jordan’s Cafe in Worthing and Count House Cafe in Cornwall.

Rashford, who has used his social media profile to highlight examples of businesses that have pledged to help with meals for local children tweeted:

Once again, communities are showing their power and resilience to look after each other in the face of shocking behaviour from ministers who’ve seemingly abandoned hungry children.

Additional reporting by PA.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Child poverty is a disgrace. 3 million kids growing in poverty. This needs not a temporary fix but a thoroughgoing change in our economic and social arrangements. Take the wealth where it lies: the richest 1% have unconscionable wealth. Timidity won’t do. Redistribution and a new arrangements to ensure those who work receive the full fruits of their labour. Now, why aren’t those words on Labour Party membership cards?

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.