Council called on to provide free school meals over Christmas

Devon County Council will be asked to ensure all eligible children receive free school meal vouchers for the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

The council this week said it will continue to work with district councils to ensure hardship support is available to vulnerable children and families across the county this winter and pledged extra funding to ensure no child goes hungry.

But Liberal Democrats group leader Cllr Alan Connett had said the announcement was ‘smoke and mirrors’ but certainly no food for hungry children and that the Conservatives running the council were playing politics with hungry children this half-term and for the holidays to come.

Now Labour group leader Cllr Rob Hannaford has put forward a motion to December’s full council meeting that would see the council resolve to use some of the allocated hardship funding to ensure that all eligible children in the Devon County Council area of responsibility receive free school meal vouchers for the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

Cllr Hannaford said: “I hope that this motion will clarify that we need leadership on this key issue from the county council directly. We will obviously work closely with our district colleagues and others, but at the end of day we are the education authority.

“The government has totally misread the mood of the country on this problem, and it has now become a symbolic issue that has starkly highlighted again the widespread poverty and hardship that continues to blight our nation through the plight of hungry children.”

The motion will be debated at the December 3 full council meeting, as will a petition started by East Devon councillor Joe Whibley, if 6,000 signatures are reached by November 24.

Cllr Whibley said: “The Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford MBE’s campaign to extend free school meal vouchers to children in need throughout the school holidays was unsuccessful in parliament yet several local councils have decided to take on that cost and responsibility, as have local businesses and charities. This petition seeks to urge Devon County Council to do the same thing, and look to cover its costs by lobbying central government to cover the subsequent onward costs.

“No child deserves to go hungry, and we must ensure we do all we can to help local children get fed regularly, term time or not.”

The Government had earlier this week referred to the £63 million that was allocated to local councils and suggested this was for free school meals.

But Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council said: “This money was distributed in June and was intended to ensure that no one – children or adults – who was badly affected by the pandemic should go hungry. That money has already been spent in Devon in supporting the most vulnerable.

“I am now writing to the Government to outline that due to our financial position we are limited in our ability to provide this support beyond the spring. We therefore urgently call on the Government to properly fund support for all vulnerable people in Devon affected by the financial impacts of the pandemic.

“I want to pay tribute to the local communities, shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants across Devon that are doing their bit in their locality to provide food for children over this half-term.

“We have already allocated £1.7 million this year through a shared hardship fund to ensure that the most needy children and families in Devon do not go hungry.

“I have also instructed that the county council holds a further £100,000 in reserve for additional hardship funding this winter.”

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