Boris Johnson is under pressure to extend the free school meals scheme ahead of the summer holidays amid warnings that more than a million children are at risk of going hungry due to the cost of living crisis.
Former Labor and Conservative education secretaries, along with the Mayor of London, unions and charities have urged the government to act as it has done during the Covid pandemic.
As inflation rises, the cost of some foods has already skyrocketed, while the Governor of the Bank of England has warned of ‘doomsday’ prices ahead.
Justine Greening, the former Conservative education secretary, said: ‘The government has a chance to avoid the free school meals mess that happened last year and anticipate the next phase of the crisis cost of living for families.
She and Labour’s Alan Johnson called on ministers to expand the system to include all children whose families receive Universal Credit benefits.
They also called for less unequal support for school children during the summer holidays.
During the Covid pandemic, the Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating raid on providing food to some of the country’s poorest families, after a campaign led by England footballer Marcus Rashford.
Teachers’ unions have now written to the government warning that the cost of living crisis is leaving many families struggling. They called for free school meals to be provided to all children of families on Universal Credit in England as an immediate first step.
Former Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said she supported the move.
As well as expanding Universal Credit eligibility to all, Ms Greening said the government should “put in place appropriate arrangements for summer holidays and review funding for school meals that schools get to ensure that it is not eroded by inflation so that children have access to healthy and nutritious food. meals as planned.
Alan Johnson said he and his sister both get free school meals and have “never forgotten how important those school dinners are”.
He said he was surprised that the right to universal credit was not already “a passport to free school meals”. He said there were good reasons for all pupils in nursery and primary schools to have free meals, but extending it to everyone who receives it “would be a good start”.
He also said the voucher system adopted during the lockdown to ensure those who received free school meals were not disadvantaged “provided a solution to the long-standing practical problem of how to continue over the holidays”.
The charity Food Foundation estimates that 2.6 million children live in households that missed meals or struggled to access healthy food in April.
Labor shadow leveling secretary Lisa Nandy said The Independent“It was so striking to me over the past school holidays, when the government refused to keep free school meals going, how councils and businesses across the country stepped up and did it anyway.
“Here in the North West, I don’t think there’s been a single labor council that hasn’t come forward and done that. Because they are our children and we will not let them starve during the school holidays just because of the government they have.
“So if the government doesn’t do this, then there will be a mobilization effort across the country to make sure that children don’t go hungry during this summer vacation. That’s leveling in action, isn’t it? These are communities that come together to upgrade. Imagine what they could do with a government that would support them,” she added.
The Department for Education says people on Universal Credit must have an annual income of less than £7,400 to qualify for free school meals.
In response to previous criticism, ministers have introduced a ‘holiday activity and dining programme’ during the summer and other school closures.
But Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it only covered part of the holidays and required children to attend activities.
Around 1.7 million pupils in England receive free school meals, according to official figures.
But an independent report, the National Food Strategy, published last year, estimated that another million children in England would receive free school meals if every family on Universal Credit was eligible.
And just 495,000 children on free school meals had access to food during school holidays through government-funded activity clubs last year.
Poverty activists also backed the latest call.
Helen Barnard, associate director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: ‘There has long been a disconnect between eligibility for free school meals and who needs them.
In particular, the program tends to exclude families in working poverty, she said, while adding that cash support for families during holidays “makes much more sense”.
Kate Anstey, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the charity wanted more…
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This notice was published: 2022-05-31 19:03:55