What a goal! Herts council forced into U-turn on free school meals

A petition calling on Herts County Council to support footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to ensure no child goes hungry during school holidays has achieved its goal.

The ruling Conservatives on the county council have been forced to step up their support for vulnerable families and commit to extend funding for free school meals up to summer half-term next year.

The U-turn came about at an extraordinary meeting called by the Liberal Democrats because at its early October meeting the Conservatives had rejected a Lib Dem motion on free school meals – so leaving doubts as to what the administration would do, if anything, to fill the gap left by the Tory Government’s Covid Winter Support Scheme, which ends on March 31.

Stephen Giles-Medhurst, Lib Dem leader on the county council, said: “In the period April to June 100,000 people used food banks for the first time, a year-on-year increase of 61%.

Increase in child food poverty
“The reduction of the furloughing scheme and massive redundancies have forced low-income families to the brink, resulting in an expected 36% increase in children in food poverty. No civilised society should accept child poverty.

“I welcome the government’s U-turn with its extra £170 million, providing £2.49 million for Hertfordshire, but it should not have needed a U-turn. They should have followed the lead of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments who supported their young children during the October half-term.”

Although the Lib Dem motion, which received Labour support, was voted down, a near identical motion was passed by the Conservatives that gave a commitment to carry on support during school holidays up to the end of the Summer half-term.

Support for vulnerable families
Under pressure from Liberal Democrats, Herts council also agreed to a special combined meeting of its Children, Young People's and Education Panels on November 26 to discuss and scrutinise the details of the support for children and vulnerable families as to the need for free school meals.

The Executive Member for Children's Services also committed to establish a dedicated scrutiny topic group to look into the need for free school meals.

Daisy Cooper, the MP for St Albans and Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, who pressed the prime minister on free school meals, added:

“While I welcome the Government’s recent commitment, it is only a short-term solution to a much wider and more long-term problem. Free School Meal vouchers should routinely be available throughout all school holidays and any future periods of lockdown where schools have to close.

“The eligibility criteria for Free School Meals should also be permanently extended to include any child whose parents are in receipt of Universal Credit, have no recourse to public funds or are destitute asylum seekers, so no child in poverty misses out.

“It is a travesty for any child to go hungry, on any day of the year, and it should be an absolute priority for the Government to address this in the forthcoming Spending Review.”

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