The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has attacked the Government’s decision to vote against extending free school meals throughout the school holidays as “shameful”. The Labour Party had proposed that the Government continue to fund free school meals throughout the holidays, including the upcoming October half term and Christmas, as part of their campaign to ensure that no child goes hungry during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour had previously given Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak 72 hours to change their position and provide this support. With the deadline expired, the Party forced a Commons vote on the issue yesterday (21st October), but Tory MPs voted against the measure.
Across Tower Hamlets, 15,223 children are at risk of going hungry over the holidays as the government withdraws support for the provision of free school meals. The October half term comes as millions of families face a furlough cliff-edge that could see jobs across the country at risk, at the same time as millions of families face tighter restrictions.
Despite huge pressure on its budgets, Tower Hamlets Council itself funds free school meals for all primary school pupils – meaning that significantly more children receive free meals than they would normally under the Government’s scheme – and also funds ‘holiday hunger’ schemes to provide free meals for children during school holidays at holiday clubs. More than 21,000 free meals were given to children at council funded school holiday activity venues last summer, and the Government was forced into a U-Turn to continue funding free school meals this summer after a national campaign.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “The Government’s failure to control the virus and manage the economic fallout has led to a jobs crisis, with so many families now facing losing their livelihoods.
“Their approach to supporting families during this crisis has been to leave them to sink-or-swim, from cutting Universal Credit to refusing to continue free school meals over the school holidays, leaving many children at risk of going hungry over the holidays.
“The Government’s decision to vote against free school meals for some of the most vulnerable children in our society is absolutely shameful.”
Councillor Mufeedah Bustin, Cabinet Member leading on Social Inclusion, said: “The Tories are failing to support the most vulnerable during this pandemic, from their failure to protect jobs to cutting Universal Credit, and failing to properly support local councils to provide frontline services.
“No child should have to go hungry and worry about where their next meal is coming from. I hope the Government will urgently accept that they have made a mistake on this and rethink their plans.”
Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “As a council we fund free school meals and holiday hunger schemes to support vulnerable families across Tower Hamlets. Our free school meal offer goes well beyond what is offered nationally, and it cannot be right that local councils are left to plug the gaps that the Government leaves behind.”