Lancashire councillors back Rashford call for kids to get free school meals during the holidays

Lancashire's most senior Labour councillors have joined the escalating national clamour to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children during the holidays.
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The majority of the party's district leaders in Lancashire - and county opposition group leader Azhar Ali – have written to Lancashire County Council calling for more support for the 83,000 Lancashire youngsters living in poverty.

It follows the defeat of a Labour motion in Parliament last week that would have seen the families of eligible pupils handed food vouchers outside term-time between now and Easter 2021.

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The £15-per-week vouchers were provided over the summer break this year in recognition of the extra hardships faced by the poorest households as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The families of children entitled to free school meals during term time received food vouchers over the summer break - and there are growing calls for the scheme to be extended to all holidays until next EasterThe families of children entitled to free school meals during term time received food vouchers over the summer break - and there are growing calls for the scheme to be extended to all holidays until next Easter
The families of children entitled to free school meals during term time received food vouchers over the summer break - and there are growing calls for the scheme to be extended to all holidays until next Easter

That followed a campaign by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, which forced a government U-turn on the subject back in June.

The striker has since been spearheading an effort to get the scheme extended - and he expressed his “despair” that the government would not change course following the Commons vote.

The Labour leaders told Conservative county council leader Geoff Driver: "Our young children’s education, their future, their life chances are built upon their health.

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“School gate hunger is a modern Dickensian scourge that no politician should turn their backs on.

“And our responsibility does not end at the school gate during holiday periods - we must be equally concerned about holiday hunger.

“We have seen over the last few months how reliance on food banks has grown massively.

“[We were] appalled to see some of your Conservative parliamentary colleagues say that it is the responsibility of poor parents and not the state and, by virtue, the state should not help those children who are hungry. This sort of attitude not only undermines the health and wellbeing of the poor, but it is also designed to stigmatise them as undeserving,” the councillors wrote.

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The government has defended its position by emphasising that it sent £63m to councils to provide support for those struggling to afford food and other essentials

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Lancashire County Council distributed its £1.5m share of that funding to district councils, using a formula which ensures that the areas with the greatest levels of deprivation receive more of the money.

The boroughs are free to decide how best to use the cash – including for supporting families during the school holidays. It has been reported that government's own advice accompanying the funding stated that it was intended to last for 12 weeks when it was issued in mid-July.

County council leader Geoff Driver said that his authority will discuss “what further measures can be put in place” for any district which exhausts those funds

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In response to the Labour letter, he added: “I agree with the sentiments you express about our children's education and this administration is keeping our pledge to narrow the attainment gap between children from poorer backgrounds compared with those from better off families.

“The government has provided £63m [across all councils]…to enable local authorities to provide food for families in need, regardless of whether or not their children are entitled to free school meals.

“I am sure, like me, you will be surprised to hear that two of the district councils have not yet signed the required agreement so that we can hand over their share of [Lancashire’s] £1.453m, so they must be managing with the other not inconsiderable funds provided by government,” County Cllr Driver said.

The Prime Minister earlier stood by his government’s stance on the subject.

"I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger," Boris Johnson said.

"The debate is, how do you deal with it.

“[We will] do everything in our power to make sure that no kid, no child, goes hungry".