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Children could miss out on 24 million meals this summer

Labour issues warning after Tories refuse to guarantee free school meal provision

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

CHILDREN could miss out on over 24 million meals this summer, Labour analysis has revealed, after the Tories refused to fully extend free school meals during the holidays.

Yesterday the party slammed the government’s “utterly shocking” alternative holiday programme, which proposes free meals for pupils who attend holiday activities on just 16 (four days a week for four weeks) of the 30 weekdays during the break, leaving children without food support for two weeks. 

Labour called on ministers to trust parents and enable a system of cash payments for meals support throughout the holidays, ensuring families can choose the food and supplies that are right for their children and get better value. 

And the party urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to implement its children’s recovery plan, which commits to extending free school meals across the summer to support families and guarantee no young person is left hungry.

The increase in Covid-19 rates as lockdown measures are relaxed could also see 3.5 million people a week forced to isolate, resulting in young people missing out further as ministers have no plans to support holiday schemes to get food to children who are isolating, Labour warned.

Shadow minister for children Tulip Siddiq said: “Feeding hungry children cannot be a part-time activity, yet this Conservative government is again stripping away the support that millions of families rely on.

“Ministers have had to be shamed into providing food for hungry children throughout the pandemic, and it is a disgrace that we are having to do this all over again.”

National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said ministers did not appear to be learning from previous U-turns when pressure from campaigners, including England football star Marcus Rashford, forced the PM to provide free meal support during holidays last year.

“The government is ignoring the strong public support for meals in the holidays for these children,” he said.

“A short-term attitude from government has made it hard for school leaders to make proper plans. It shouldn’t be left to schools to have to highlight how important this is.

“We need to do things differently after [the pandemic] and make a proper strategy to address holiday hunger, so children aren’t left behind in terms of opportunities.”  

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