Councils in Lewisham, Hackney, Tower Hamlet and Croydon have decided to extend free school meals schemes over the current half term and Christmas break to support low-income families, following the governments’ decision to not support families outside of term time.
The scheme went viral after footballer Marcus Rashford voiced his support for extending the government’s free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021 instead of only during term time. The government blocked the bid and decided not to follow Scotland, Wales or Ireland to support families.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said the Government was “absolutely committed” to ensuring vulnerable children do not go hungry.
But he told BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat: “We’ve taken the view that we have provided resources for local authorities to help in a targeted way the most vulnerable children that they need to look after.”
Mr Sunak said: “We should be able to trust local councils in different areas to make decisions for their people”.
There are plenty of schemes across the four boroughs supporting families during the half-term week. Here is a rundown of some of them.
Although they haven’t given out much information, Croydon Council announced that they will be handing out supermarket vouchers to those who both receive free schools meals and have contacted them about it.
Croydon has been the least clear out of all four boroughs about how they’re supporting the scheme.
Chris Phillip, one of the Croydon MPs, voted against the scheme. Some residents are calling for local pubs and cafes to ban him from their businesses like Cornwall MP Steve Double.
Twitter user @notreallyruth said: “Croydon south can we arise and do the same for Chris Philp pls. The only Croydon MP to vote against free school meals knowing Croydon has the largest no. of young people in London.”
One Croydon resident wrote on Twitter about an email exchange with Philip.
She said that Philip replied that the vote was not legally binding and that Labour was scoring cheap political points.
Phillip said in his reply according to the resident: “Provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only and there is no requirement for schools to continue this provision during school holidays.”
The National Education Union has organised a protest for access to free school meals on Thursday 29 October outside the Department for Education in Croydon and local businesses like Crushed Bean and Matthews Yard are offering to provide school meals.
The Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan announced an extension of free school meals over half term for Lewisham students.
He said: “In Lewisham 12,479 children rely on them and this decision has left many families and schools in a difficult position. My family relied on them when I was growing up and so I know how important they are in ensuring children don’t go hungry. We can’t stand by and let this happen.”
Egan has urged the government to reconsider their decision to think again on this issue because he believes ensuring children don’t go hungry means the government is failing its most basic duty.
According to Lewisham Local, there has been a 13% rise in the number of people applying for and receiving free school meals during COVID 19.
The mayoresses of Lewisham have also been heavily supporting this campaign. They have been handing out food themselves withs stores like Evelyn Community Store while also raising money for the community with a JustGiving page.
They have also released tweets asking for meetings to discuss the issue with Boris Johnson.
They said: “Boris make that change for the children/and the parents. Stop calling them ‘very poor’ do you know how that feels?”
The community has also been very active in its support for school meals for children. The Poodle Club is providing packed lunches and has been raising money to fund it. Their fundraiser has already surpassed its target of £2000 and has raised over £2600.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Briggs proclaimed his disappointment in the government’s attitude towards the scheme.
John Briggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “I am disappointed the government voted against providing meals for our most disadvantaged children… children should not be going hungry in 2020 and as a council we are stepping in to provide a safety net to our residents.”
Tower hamlets announced its support for the scheme and will continue to support similar schemes such as providing food to their Voluntary and community sector partners, Resident Support Scheme and Council tax reduction.
Rashford promoted Tower Hamlets Bakery, Rinkoff Bakery on his Twitter page for contributing to the cause, but there are many more. Other Tower Hamlets business’ such as The Bow Bells (pub), Mae + Harvey (juices) and Mooshies (vegan burger bar) – just to name a few – are also supporting providing school meals.
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care said: “In one of the richest countries in the world, it’s simply unacceptable that any child should go hungry and we’re determined not to let that happen next week.
“Ministers have had seven months to ensure a comprehensive package of help was in place for families struggling to make ends meet due to the impact of coronavirus. They have failed. They must act now to ensure that no family endures a Christmas with no food in the cupboards.”
This sentiment is echoed by the borough’s mayor, Phillip Glanville, who believes it is the council’s responsibility to step in for the government who have not resolved the issue.
Glanville said: “I’m proud that so many schools, businesses and volunteers have already pledged to help struggling families this half-term…But feeding families shouldn’t rely on goodwill.“
Hackney residents have volunteered to help themselves, both by cooking themselves and only supporting places that are helping out.
Similarly, a Hackney musician, Antonio Lulic, has voiced his support for three pubs including The Plough, The Prince Arthur and The Duke Richmond who are helping provide meals for residents, saying that he’ll exclusively be drinking there from now on.