County Council’s operation to stop Christmas holiday hunger: Selaine Saxby tweets

A major operation is under way in Devon to combat holiday hunger for children this Christmas.

[And Selaine Saxby MP who previously said she “very much” hopes businesses offering to feed hungry children for free “will not be seeking any further government support”, provokes a predictable comment when she tweets. her support ]

Daniel Clark

Devon County Council is set to lead the operation to organise networks of providers across the county and will use a £2 million Government grant to support vulnerable children and families in the most effective way.

Leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, told Wednesday morning’s cabinet meeting: “We are going to receive just over £2 million from the Government and we now have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Over the next few weeks a range of community kitchens, holiday clubs, charities and local businesses will be enlisted to coordinate help and support for those who need it the most in every district in Devon.

They will ensure that every child entitled to Free School Meals will be able to get free food over the Christmas holiday, during the Easter half-term and the Easter holidays.

Devon’s Cabinet member for communities, Cllr Roger Croad, added: “We need to act quickly to ensure that no child goes hungry this Christmas.

“We envisage that in most areas there will be a range of solutions and options that are geared to meet the needs of their individual communities.

“These are likely to include holiday clubs providing food, cooking sessions, community meals, offers from local cafes and businesses and community larders.

“Our top priority is to ensure those in receipt of free school meals have enough to eat over the holidays. But we also want to help and support people with wider vulnerabilities.”

Cllr Hart added: “This pandemic has been so cruel to so many people. We are aiming to support those families who were suddenly left without money, without a job and without savings as a result of coronavirus.

“This partnership of local organisations tailoring support to the local needs of their communities coupled with the Devon-wide organisation of the county council seems a really good way forward.

“I believe it will be an effective and practical way of combating holiday hunger and I want to thank all of the groups that will be working with us.”

The latest statistics show that 14,774 children in Devon are registered for free school meals – 15 per cent of the total school population.

It follows the Government’s U-turn on providing free school meals over the holidays to the poorest children which has been welcomed by Devon’s head of education who said it is a massive step forward of getting support to families.

The UK government had extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays earlier this year and, after a campaign by Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford campaigning, did the same for the summer holiday.

Initially though they refused to do so for half-term and the Christmas holidays, before making a U-turn this week when a winter grant scheme programme of £400m was announced by Government to provide support with food and bills, with a holiday food and activities programme to be expanded.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Devon County Council children’s scrutiny committee, Dawn Stabb, the council’s head of education, said that if properly implemented then it should be a significant step in the right direction for helping children.

Committee chairman Cllr Rob Hannaford had prior to Monday’s announcement 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 receive free school meal vouchers for the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

He said: “I welcome the change of direction and that had caused a lot of controversy and there were so many families affected by the issue.”

Asking Mrs Stabb, he said: “In your opinion, does the current package do all that we would want it to do in Devon and what members wanted it to and can you see in the new scheme, much welcome as it is, any gaps we may need to plug to make sure no families slip through the net?”

In response, she said while they only currently have the headline figures, it is a massive step forward of getting the support to families.

She added: “The route is correct, the principle is correct, we have the infrastructure in place to deliver it, but we don’t have the exact detail as to how the funding will be applied or any other restrictions. I cannot give a categorical answer but if it is properly implemented, it should move us significantly in the right direction. The key focus is to ensure food makes its way to children.”

Cllr Frank Biederman added: “I am thankful that the Government has listened and acted and have moved in the right direction,” while Cllr Richard Hosking said that rather than a ‘change of heart’, it was a ‘change in circumstances with the second lockdown’ that led to the U-turn.

In a report to the meeting, she said that there were 14,774 pupils claiming free school meals in Devon, which at £3 per meal, meaning it would cost £44,322 per day to provide a meal to these children, with 15 per cent of all pupils eligible.

In Torridge, 18 per cent of pupils would be eligible, with 17 per cent in North Devon and Exeter, 15 per cent in Mid Devon and Teignbridge, 14 per cent in West Devon, 13 per cent in East Devon and 12 per cent in the South Hams and of pupils who live in Plymouth but who study at schools in the Devon County Council area.

The report added that every single area had been an increase in claimants in October compared to pre-lockdown levels.

Asked whether she thought schools would have to close, Mrs Stabb said that the Government had been clear that keeping them open was a priority.

She added: “The number of infections coming down in Devon’s school. When I last reported to the committee there were 30+ schools and 1600 pupils off self-isolating and that it now down to 20 school and 382 children self-isolating.

“There is no national indicator of spread within the school environment and cases are coming from contacts outside the school, with no evidence of increased risk of children attending schools. From the figures we are seeing in Devon, there is nothing to suggest it would warrant a school closure.”

Selaine Saxby MP on Twitter

[In a now-deleted Facebook post Selaine Saxby, who represents North Devon, wrote: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.” ]

No child should ever go hungry, and the extra £2M for @DevonCC will ensure local families that need extra support with food and bills this winter can access it, which is very welcome news.


From comments in the Guardian:

This is very the same Tory MP who wasn’t satisfied with just voting against feeding hungry kids.

She said that businesses who helped feed hungry kids should not ask for any government help in lockdown.

She actually wanted to punish businesses for stepping into the breach left by her Party.

The hypocrisy is quite breathtaking.