More than 2,000 paediatricians have signed a letter urging Boris Johnson to extend free school meals to vulnerable children during the holidays.
The open letter from the RCPCH members says:
Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics.
Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat.
We call on the UK Government to match the pledges of the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, to continue to provide children from low-income backgrounds with free meals over the coming weeks and to then extend this at least until the Easter school holiday, as they have done in Wales and Scotland.
Members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said they are shocked by the government’s “refusal” to do so. And they praised footballer Marcus Rashford for his “powerful campaigning” on the issue.
Businesses and organisations across England have pledged to offer free food to children from low income backgrounds. It comes as MPs rejected a bid from Labour, backed by the Manchester United star, to extend free school meals over the holidays until Easter. Rashford’s own campaign goes further than what Labour has called for, as the footballer has petitioned the government to:
– Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit
– Provide meals & activities during all holidays
– Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.
Labour has now warned it’ll bring the issue back to the House of Commons if ministers don’t change course in time for Christmas. Shadow education secretary Kate Green called on the prime minister to meet with Rashford’s taskforce “as a matter of urgency” to discuss its proposals for ending child poverty.
Johnson’s own party colleague Robert Halfon said meeting with Rashford was a “no-brainer”. While fellow Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said extending provision over the holidays is a “simple and practical vehicle” to support families. He called on the government to “re-visit” the option.
Councils, including Conservative-run bodies, have announced stop-gap measures to cover the October half-term break which begins on 26 October.
Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics. Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat.
— RCPCH (@RCPCHtweets) October 24, 2020
Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council said it will pay for free school meals for eligible pupils in the borough. While other Tory-controlled councils getting on board include Hillingdon, Medway, and Wandsworth.
Meanwhile, Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street said the government should make “a clear decision” on whether it would or wouldn’t fund free school meals over holidays. He added that it should not be “a last-minute thing”.
No kid should go hungry. We're supporting @MarcusRashford and providing pupils in the borough with free school meals over half term.
Almost 3,300 youngsters will receive £15 vouchers to cover the cost of meals.
— Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (@RBKC) October 23, 2020
The Labour leader of Birmingham City Council pledged to provide 61,000 eligible youngsters with meals. It will be in a scheme which will cost the local authority between £800,000 and £1m. And the mayor of Liverpool said he was “not prepared to stand by and watch”, as he announced £300,000 of funding.
McDonald’s UK has also offered support to families. It’s announced a partnership with Fare Share UK to provide one million meals for families in need.
Downing Street has declined to praise such outlets for stepping in, with a Number 10 spokesperson saying:
I believe the PM said during PMQs that free school meals will continue during term time and that he wants to continue to support families throughout the crisis so they have cash available to feed kids if they need to.
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