Labour is calling for free school meals to be extended over holidays between now and spring 2021, covering the upcoming October half-term, the Christmas break, February half-term and the Easter holidays.
The demand comes after Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, who helped to force a government U-turn on free meals in July, launched a fresh campaign against child food poverty with a new parliamentary petition.
But Boris Johnson rejected Rashford’s plea, saying: “It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays.” The Prime Minister recommended that struggling families apply for Universal Credit.
The footballer commented: “Merry Christmas kids… It’s also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising… This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I…”
Labour is now joining the fight, with Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green emphasising that inadequate financial support being offered during the pandemic risks leaving more than 1.4 million children hungry during holidays.
She said: “Millions of families face the prospect of losing their livelihoods because the government has lost control of the virus. Its sink-or-swim plans for support could leave more than one million children at risk of going hungry over the school holidays.
“Now is the time to act. Labour will not stand by and let families be the victims of the government’s incompetence. If Boris Johnson doesn’t change course, we will force a vote this week and give his backbenchers the chance to do the right thing.”
Tory chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon has also expressed disappointment over the Prime Minister’s reaction to the call for free meals to be extended over holidays for children in low-income families.
The October half-term holiday will come as Rishi Sunak’s national furlough scheme ends. He has announced a local version, but this only applies to businesses forced to close, and his other scheme is only predicted to save 230,000 jobs.
The first week of the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in August is estimated to have seen the government spend £105m covering the cost of meal discounts. The cost is almost as high as an entire summer of free school meals.
The Welsh Labour government has announced that free school meals will continue to be available to eligible pupils in Wales over the October half-term and for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.