Feed 900,000 Covid hotspot children at half term, says Labour

Feed 900,000 Covid hotspot children at half term, says Labour

Labour claims nearly 900,000 children in Covid hot spots will be denied a free school lunch at half term, unless the government extends a food scheme.

Some 61% of the 1.4 million pupils on free school meals live in areas with higher Covid restrictions, says Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green.

Her party aims to force a Commons vote on plans to extend the scheme over half term and through to Easter 2021.

The government says poorer families are supported through the benefits system.

A widely supported campaign, led by international footballer Macus Rashford, prompted the government to extend its support – which amounted to £15 a week per pupil – over the summer holidays, in the wake of school closures.

A petition to end child food poverty launched by the campaigning footballer last week now has nearly 300,000 signatures.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told MPs on Tuesday it was not for schools to support families through the free school dinner scheme, in the way that they were during the summer, because schools were now open.

He mirrored words from the Prime Minister who has also resisted calls for the extension.

But the Welsh government, which recently ordered a three-week lockdown, announced a move to offer food support to struggling families until next spring.

Labour’s Opposition Day debate, due to be take place in the Commons on Wednesday, calls for the provision of free school meals to be extended over each school holiday from October half term to Easter 2021.

The first holiday, the October half term, starts in most areas next week.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner said: “This vote is about our values as a country and whether the government, in the middle of this crisis, is happy to let our children go hungry.

“Millions of families up and down the country are facing a bleak winter of real hardship as the furlough scheme is withdrawn and further restrictions are put in place without proper support for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.”

Data obtained by Ms Green from the Commons library suggests that nearly 900,000 children living in areas with either Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions are entitled to free school meals in the present system.

Labour argues these children and their families face a “winter of hardship” as the jobs retention scheme ends and further lockdown restrictions take their toll on the jobs and local economies.

It has been lobbying Conservative back benchers by letter to support the motion, which already has the backing of the teaching unions.

Many head teachers in poorer areas mounted food delivery operations during the school lockdown to ensure their pupils had enough to eat.

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