We're delighted that the Government has committed to spending around £400m to support vulnerable families in England. The scheme will be run by councils to support with food and bills. Rob Percival, Soil Association's Head of Food Policy, said:
“We’re delighted that the Government has responded to our campaign calling for the implementation of the National Food Strategy by pledging to support children and families. Marcus Rashford and the alliance of organisations behind this campaign have done a fantastic job advocating on behalf of those at risk of hunger and malnutrition, and the Government should be commended for listening. The £400m pledged to support meal and activity provision during the school holidays, and to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers, represents a significant investment in child health.
“There is still more to do, however. The National Food Strategy also calls for an expansion of Free School Meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit, and the Government is yet to respond to this recommendation. We have seen throughout the pandemic the critical importance of school meals in many communities, and the courage of the caterers and cooks working to keep our children healthy and well fed. We urge further investment in school meals, including an expansion to Free School Meal eligibility in line with the National Food Strategy, alongside a renewed commitment to universal provision for all infants.”
On Wednesday 21 October, the motion to continue directly funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated.
Over a million children are at risk of going hungry over the holidays.
We have therefore written to MPs once again, joining with other leading food charities and education unions including Food Foundation and Children’s Food Campaign.
We are asking for the government to commit to providing benefits related free school meals during the Christmas holidays, and beyond into Spring 2021.
We support the National Food Strategy’s recommendation for funding to be extended to support vulnerable children during school holidays, which we hope will be reflected in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review. But right now, families are facing the grim reality of a two-week Christmas break without access to free school meals and the indignity of having to rely on food banks or community initiatives, should they be available in their area.
Even with the national voucher scheme over summer, 18% of 8-17 year olds (1.4 million children) reported experiences of food insecurity during the school holidays, and 11% (850,000 children) reported that either they or their family had visited a food bank.
We're delighted that the #EndChildFoodPoverty petition now has over one million signatures! This means the Government is now required to discuss debating the petition in Parliament. The Government must now act to implement the three key recommendations from the National Food Strategy:
- Expansion of the free school meal eligibility criteria
- Extension of the Holiday Activities & Food Programme
- Increase in value of Healthy Start Vouchers
Help maintain momentum by continuing to sign the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276/
Among a huge surge in free school meal registrations, on 22nd October the Government voted not to extend free school meals through the October half term, despite calls to the contrary.
At a time of rising unemployment and increased food insecurity due to Covid-19, it is horrifying that millions of children have been left at risk of going hungry.
Rob Percival, Head of Food Policy at Soil Association said:
“It’s now several months since the National Food Strategy recommended an extension to holiday school meal provision. Has the Prime Minister not read the strategy that his own government commissioned? While school meal provision across the holidays doesn’t resolve the deeper issue of poverty and dietary inequalities, we know that these meals provide a vital safety net for many children. As we head towards Christmas, with parts of the country facing more restrictions, the number of families struggling to afford a healthy diet is set to increase. The Prime Minister must take the necessary steps to ensure all children in need receive a Free School Meal over the holidays.”
Whilst children in England are left without, other UK governments are providing the funding to ensure children do not spend their holidays hungry.
- During the Scottish half term, the Scottish Government provided funding to cover meals during holidays – and they are extending this until at least next Easter.
- The Welsh Government has guaranteed free school meal provision for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021
- The Northern Ireland Government provided free school meal payments for the period schools were closed and October school holidays. The Education Authority made direct payments to the families.
The community response to this decision has been fantastic with businesses, community organisations and local authorities stepping in to help support struggling families.
But no child should go hungry and it shouldn’t be down to individuals such as Marcus Rashford to campaign for support or businesses and community projects, often struggling themselves, to feed them. The Government must support vulnerable children.
Lend your voice by signing the petition now: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276/
Families affected by holiday hunger can find support using the KidsMealMap from the Food Foundation https://www.kidsmealsmap.co.uk/