Halting tax cuts given to the banks for just one week could fund food vouchers for 1.9 million children in poverty over Christmas, analysis has revealed.
“…I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come…but I promise you this – I will bring that same compassion to the challenges we face today…” Rishi Sunak
Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk
If Rishi Sunak’s government were to ditch the tax cuts for seven days, it would raise enough to feed all the children eligible for free school meals in England during the school break.
Analysis by the Liberal Democrats, shared with The Independent, shows an expected loss to the Treasury of £3.2bn next year from the planned reduction to the bank surcharge on profits and cuts to the bank levy – over £61m per week.
The opposition party said £61m could be used to provide £3 lunch vouchers to children in poverty every weekday over the festive period.
Munira Wilson, the Lib Dems’ education spokesperson, said: “It is completely out of touch for this Conservative government to press ahead with cutting taxes for the big banks.”
“If Jeremy Hunt reversed the cut for just a single week, it would feed millions of children this Christmas. The fact that he is so unwilling to do so proves how completely wrong his priorities are,” she added.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement confirmed Mr Sunak’s planned cut to the bank surcharge on profits from 8 per cent to 3 per cent would go ahead from April 2023.
The change and recent cuts to the levy mean banks operating in the UK will pay £18bn less in these taxes over the next five years, according to Lib Dem analysis of data from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR).
The findings come as MPs and campaigners call for Mr Sunak to expand both free school meal eligibility and funding for holiday programmes.
Around 1.9 million children are currently eligible, but a further 800,000 children in poverty are unable to get free meals because their family’s income – excluding benefits – is more than £7,400 a year after tax.
Last week Labour MP Zarah Sultana introduced a bill that would widen eligibility to all primary school pupils in England. She said the move would guarantee that “every child in England, no matter their background, gets a decent meal each day”.
The call comes amid fears that hundreds of thousands of children in poverty miss out on the patchwork support available through local authorities over the Christmas holiday.
Campaigners’ analysis of the government’s Holiday Activity Fund Programme (HAFP) – which provides funding to councils for vouchers during school breaks – shows it only reached 29 per cent of the 1.9 million children eligible for free school meals.
If the scheme has the same restricted reach again this year, it would leave 1.35 million eligible children without support with meals during the holiday, warned Labour MP Kim Johnson.
Urging Mr Sunak to expand the programme, the MP said: “Give councils the funds necessary to tackle holiday hunger this winter and ensure no child goes hungry.”
The Food Foundation said there was now a “postcode lottery” on which local authorities provided vouchers or other additional support during the holiday.
The Local Government Association said some councils could no longer afford to continue giving vouchers through the government’s Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) scheme.
The Lib Dems’ education spokesperson said the government had been dragged “kicking and screaming” into helping children struggling with food poverty during the Covid pandemic.
“Yet their continued efforts to deny free school meals to 800,000 children proves they either don’t care, or that they still haven’t got the message,” said Ms Wilson.
She added: “Conservative ministers must step up and extend free school meals and roll out food vouchers nationwide – it would cost a fraction of what they spend on vanity projects and helping out their rich friends.”