Tower Hamlets Labour are calling for the Government’s Free School Meal voucher scheme to continue over the summer holidays.
The scheme was introduced in March as part of the coronavirus response to help support low income families whilst schools are closed and is worth £15 per week for each eligible child, however the Government has recently confirmed that the scheme will not continue over the summer holidays.
Mayor John Biggs, Cllr Danny Hassell and Cllr Mufeedah Bustin have issued a stark warning in a letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that ‘child hunger will not stop just because the schools close for summer’ and that stopping the scheme would be an ‘enormous mistake’, cutting off a vital lifeline for many families with vulnerable children.
The letter also highlights that food banks across the country have reported record levels of people relying on their food parcels, with the Trussell Trust reporting a soaring 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared to the same month last year, including a 107% rise in parcels given to children.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “It was extremely disappointing to hear that the Government will not continue the Free School Meal voucher scheme over the summer holidays. Child hunger will not stop just because the schools close and stopping the scheme will cut off a vital lifeline for many families here in Tower Hamlets and across the country. The Government must urgently reconsider before the holidays start.”
Cllr Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “The voucher scheme has provided much-needed support during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with so many families in a desperate financial situation. These families will be extremely worried about how they will feed their children over the summer holidays and the impact will be devastating for many vulnerable children in our borough.”
Cllr Mufeedah Bustin, Cabinet Member for Planning and Social Inclusion, said: “Foodbanks are already reporting a record number of people relying on food parcels during the pandemic, showing the extremely difficult situation that many families face. The Government’s decision to stop the free school meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays will only make this situation worse, and it will further entrench the health and social inequalities right at a time when we know that our BAME and poorer communities are more likely to be disproportionately impacted by coronavirus and the Government should be doing everything it can to overcome these inequalities.”
Full text of the letter sent to the Secretary of State for Education:
Dear Secretary of State
We were extremely disappointed that the Government has decided not to continue the free school meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays. This is an enormous mistake and we urge you to reconsider – child hunger will not stop just because the schools close for summer.
The scheme has provided a lifeline for many families with vulnerable children who have struggled financially during the coronavirus crisis, and to withdraw that lifeline now would have a devastating impact for many children across Tower Hamlets and indeed across the country. Food banks within our borough and across the country have reported that record numbers of people are relying on their support during lockdown, and the Trussell Trust reports a soaring 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared to the same month last year, including a 107% rise in parcels given to children.
Public Health England’s report ‘disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19’ confirmed what we knew that our BAME and poorer communities are more likely to be disproportionately impacted by coronavirus. Suspending the free school meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays will simply exacerbate these huge inequalities when we should be doing everything in our power to overcome them.
The Government rightly ensured the scheme continued over the Easter holidays and it must now do the same for the summer holidays.
We look forward to hearing from you.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Cllr Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools
Cllr Mufeedah Bustin, Cabinet Member for Planning and Social Inclusion (Job Share)