On the 21st October 2020, the government voted against a motion delivered by the Opposition, to extend the “Free School Meal” programme into the Christmas Holidays 2020/21 and Easter Holidays 2021. The vote has sparked a national campaign by charities and businesses to provide food for children who would qualify for free school meals.
When the country was forced into lockdown back in March it became apparent that wages, hours and livelihoods would be plunged into uncertainty. It was with this in mind that Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford penned an open letter to MPs saying;
“Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”
The letter outlined the situation faced by the 1.3 million UK children registered for the Free School Meals scheme, and contained Rashford’s own experiences of growing up in food poverty. This prompted the government to respond by passing the “COVID Summer Food Fund”. The fund gave those eligible vouchers of £90 for the six weeks of the summer holidays to spend on food. However, no plan to continue the fund after the end of the summer holidays was established.
The Labour party proposed the movement to extend the scheme into the holidays of the next academic year and was voted down by 60 votes.
Boris Johnson told the BBC on Monday that councils had been provided with an additional funding with £63 million pounds split between local authorities through the new “Local Welfare Assistance Fund”. However, this has been criticised by many local councils as they were told by the government in June that they had 12 weeks to allocate the funds, meaning the money was expected to go until the end of September. However, Boris Johnson also reinstated the fact that Universal Credit has been increased by £20 a week, and this has been on-going since April.
Out of Norfolk’s 9 MPs, only one – Clive Lewis MP, the Labour MP that presides over the consistency that the University of East Anglia is situated, voted in favour of the movement to extend the scheme.
According to the Charity “Norfolk Foundation” 29,300 children in Norfolk live in poverty. In 2018, 10 of their food banks in Norwich gave out 9,322 food parcels, 1/3 of these going to children under the age of 16. Another charity “Imagine Norfolk together” said through its research it had found 1/5 parents miss meals in order for their children to eat.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said that there were “real issues with finding the right long-term policy” in order to tackle food poverty, adding that we also needed a more “integrated” approach to the issue. Likewise, Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland, said that he did not believe in turning educational establishments into “branches of the welfare state” and that the government had made a better solution by adding £20 a week to Universal credit.