MPs implored to support extension of free school meals scheme over holidays

Jack Abbott, county Labour spokesperson for childrens services, education and skills Picture: SARAH

Jack Abbott, county Labour spokesperson for childrens services, education and skills Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Suffolk’s MPs have been asked to “do the right thing” ahead of a government vote on whether free school meals for disadvantaged students should be extended through half-term.

A crunch vote is due to take place in parliament tomorrow (Wednesday, October 21) and will give Suffolk’s seven Conservative MPs a chance to vote on whether free school meals should be provided during holidays, up to Easter 2021.

The government’s current position is for the scheme not to be prolonged to the autumn half-term.

In advance of the vote, Opposition Spokesperson for children’s services, education and skills, Jack Abbott sent a letter to the MPs imploring them to vote for the scheme to be extended.

In the letter he said that free school meals help many of the nearly 40,000 children living in poverty in Suffolk.

The Labour councillor added that the 15,000 children were eligible for Free School Meals in Suffolk has seen a 15% increase since March.

He said: “This pandemic has devastated the lives and livelihoods of so many people. Families have lost all or some of their income.

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“Businesses which have taken years of hard-work to build up have had to close overnight.

“The tragic result of this will be more children living in poverty and more children not having enough to eat.

“This is true irrespective of whether it is term time or during the school holidays.”

It was also said that the amount of food handed out by foodbanks has increased by 238% in Suffolk this year.

Angela Gregg of Foodbank Hadleigh said: “They did the school voucher scheme for children throughout the whole summer and it really did help families.

“But, then we picked up a few of those families who later couldn’t cope without the vouchers.

“We would absolutely back the calls to continue free school meals.

“Since lockdown in March we have had to increase our delivery by 300%. We are doing much more.”

Also backing the plans is chair of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Headteachers, Dave Lee-Allan.

The Stowmarket High School headteacher also called for government grants to completely cover the costs of free school meals, as schools are still absorbing some of the fee.

He said: “The amount that students get for the meal isn’t fully funded by the school.

“So a school increasing the amount of free school meals up take, is actually increasing its own costs.

“One thing that we would completely support is saying that the grant that comes in from the government covers the full cost of the meals.

“The free school meals are absolutely essential for the most disadvantaged students.

“The idea that they can come into school and have the provision to come into the school and have a good meal during the day is quite genuinely a lifeline.

“We are in support of extending it.”