Poorest kids ‘will miss 12million’ free school meals this Christmas due to Tory failure


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Kids no longer get free school meals in the summer holidays like they did at the start of the Covid pandemic – and the replacement programme will only support them for four days of the 11-day break

Disadvantaged pupils will get support for only four days of the 11-day Christmas break
Disadvantaged pupils will get support for only four days of the 11-day Christmas break

Nearly 2 million poorer children risk going hungry over Christmas due to Tory failure to offer a full free school meals provision in the holidays, Labour has warned.

Analysis by the party found disadvantaged pupils will get support for only four days of the 11-day Christmas break – amounting to around 12 million meals missed.

One in five (20.4%) of all pupils in England are eligible for the benefit. Figures show 427,000 pupils have qualified for the benefit since the start of the first lockdown as the pandemic squeezed family finances.

Free school meals are usually offered in term time but footballer Marcus Rashford shamed the Government into feeding kids in the holidays last year.

Last November, the Government handed £220m to local councils to run free holiday clubs for children eligible for the benefit.

But campaigners say the Holiday Activities and Food Programme doesn’t go far enough as it covers activities for four days a week, for four weeks of the summer, and a week at Christmas and Easter.

Last November, the Government handed £220m to local councils to run free holiday clubs
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Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Shadow Children’s Minister Helen Hayes said: ‘’Families are feeling the crunch with the price of food, fuel and other essentials rocketing.

“There is a real danger that many families will struggle this Christmas.”

Government officials pointed out free school meals and the HAF Programme were never the same thing, and HAF had reached more than half a million children over the.

They added vulnerable families could access funds through a £500m household support fund.

But Ms Hayes said: “The government’s answer to this problem simply isn’t good enough, with children missing millions of vital meals while prices spiral.

“Ministers are making the situation even worse with tax hikes on working people and their cut to universal credit.

“Labour would ease pressures on working families by scrapping VAT on household energy bills this winter.”

Marcus Rashford helped keep up pressure on the government
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It comes as the Government published new figures showing some 600,000 children attended holiday clubs over the summer, including over 495,000 children eligible for free school meals.

But the figure accounts for only around 28% of the 1.74 million children eligible for free lunches.

A review of the programme in the summer by the Food Foundation found it had a positive impact on food insecurity – and a knock on benefit for families of children who attended.

It recommended extending the scheme to all children and a long-term funding commitment.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education also said more than 1,200 schools have signed up to offer free breakfast programmes, which has been extended up to 2023.

Announcing the figures, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Being healthy and active is a vital part of growing up, and if we want to continue to level up opportunities for every child in the country this must go hand-in-hand with an excellent education.

“I’m really encouraged to see the huge numbers of children benefiting from our Holiday Activities and Food programme and the National School Breakfast programme.

“Both provide not just the benefits of a nutritious meal but also the chance to take part in activities they may not otherwise have exposure to, such as music lessons, cookery classes or the arts.

“It’s great to see the latest evidence support what we’ve already seen first-hand in children’s lives. I’m grateful to those running holiday clubs this Christmas, and I urge teachers and school staff to sign up to the National School Breakfast Programme.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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