The government’s free school meals policy has come under fire from Labour, which has accused ministers of failing to provide up to 24m meals over the summer holidays, warning that feeding hungry children “cannot be a part-time activity”.
According to Labour, la government’s holiday activities and food programme, which was expanded last year amid mounting public concern about holiday hunger, provides free meals for only 16 of a total of 30 weekdays during the six-week summer break, leaving children without food support for 14 dias.
The shadow minister for children and early years, Tulip Siddiq, said it was “utterly shocking” that the government had failed to guarantee free school meals over the entire holiday.
“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," ella dijo.
“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. Ensuring no child goes hungry is at the heart of Labour’s children’s recovery plan, which includes guaranteeing free school meals support over all school holidays during the pandemic.”
The government has been forced into a number of embarrassing U-turns over its free school meals policy, thanks to the intervention of the Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford and his campaign to end child food poverty.
Its holiday activities and food programme is well regarded, but critics say it is too limited. It provides £220m in funding for free holiday activities and a meal – to children eligible for and in receipt of free school meals – for at least four hours a day, four days a week, six weeks a year. It runs for four weeks in the summer and a week in each of the Easter and Christmas holidays.
Con 1.7 million children eligible for free school meals, Labour calculates that over the 14 days not covered by the programme, disadvantaged children are missing more than 24m meals.
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, dicho: “The government does not appear to be learning from its U-turns on free school meals and is ignoring the strong public support for meals in the holidays for these children.
“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. That it should still be necessary to point out shortcomings in provision for the summer holiday is disappointing.
“The NEU thinks that it’s just not acceptable for there to be 24m missing meals this summer. We need to do things differently after Covid and make a proper strategy to address holiday hunger, so children aren’t left behind in terms of opportunities.”
A government spokesperson said its expanded holiday activities and food programme would run in every local authority in England this summer, “providing enriching activities and healthy food. The extended Covid local support grant, worth £429.1m, will further ensure that families are well supported with food and essentials throughout the summer holidays.”