The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has hit out at the Government for undermining the council’s efforts to tackle poverty in the borough, and warned that local councils cannot indefinitely pick up the tab for filling in the cracks in Government support schemes.

Mayor Biggs said that the recent Free School Meals (FSM) fiasco, soaring foodbank use and the Chancellor’s failure to set a long-term plan for economic support showed how families were being left to “sink or swim”.

New figures from the Trussell Trust show the soaring use of foodbanks in the country and the huge hardship facing many families, with their latest forecast predicting a 61% increase in food parcels needed across its UK network in October to December, the equivalent of six emergency food parcels given out every minute this winter.

With the Prime Minister having announced a new nationwide lockdown on Saturday, the government has had to change the economic support package it offers to workers and businesses affected by the virus. This announcement was made just hours before the furlough scheme was due to end, and represents the fifth change of government policy in just four months and leaves families and businesses with a great deal of uncertainty.

Mayor Biggs also said that Tower Hamlets Council’s work to tackle poverty has been undermined by the Government. Despite enormous austerity cuts to the council’s budgets, the council has continued to provide universal FSM for all primary school children for a number of years, with over 6,800 children benefitting from this council-funded extended offer in Tower Hamlets. The Tower Hamlets FSM scheme, costing the council £3m per year, goes significantly beyond the national scheme where only eligible children are entitled to receive FSM.

The Mayor has also called on the Government to U-turn on its decision not to extend FSM during school holidays, saying that “it’s not too late” for ministers to step in to ensure that kids don’t go hungry over Christmas.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “The Free School Meals fiasco and the Chancellor’s failure to set out a long-term support package shows that families have been left to sink or swim by this Tory Government.

“The Chancellor’s approach to supporting people and businesses through this really difficult time has been to lurch from one short-term plan to another, only adding uncertainty and making a bad situation worse.

“At the very minimum I hope the Prime Minister changes his mind on Free School Meals over the Christmas holidays. Their vote against meals over the half-term holidays was shameful, but it’s not too late to ensure they can continue over Christmas.”

Councillor Mufeedah Bustin, Cabinet Member leading on Social Inclusion, said: “This warning from the Trussell Trust is stark and shows just how difficult this winter is going to be for many people in the borough. We really need the Government to set out a longer-term plan so that we can have some certainty about the future, and we also need the Chancellor to properly fund our council so that we can continue to fund our Tackling Poverty work which makes such a huge difference locally.”

Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “The new national lockdown will be difficult for everyone, but we know that children are some of the worst affected and they need as much support as possible. The Tory Government has repeatedly let our children and young people down, from the exam results fiasco to the vote against Free School Meals, and they deserve so much better.”

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