Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
2:35 AM 15th June 2020

Calls For A 'Holiday Without Hunger’ This Summer

Rachael Maskell MP has added her voice to the ‘Holidays Without Hunger’ campaign, calling on the Government to reverse their decision to withdraw funding for free school meals over the summer holidays.

Nearly 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals which are usually provided in school during term-time. During the Covid-19 pandemic a voucher scheme to provide food support to children at home was established instead which, after pressure, was extended to cover the May half-term. However, the Government has confirmed that it will not continue the voucher scheme or fund free school meals over the summer holidays. This contrasts with the Welsh Government, which has announced it will continue funding free school meals during the summer holidays, providing each eligible child the equivalent of £19.50 a week.

Even without the added pressures of Covid-19, every summer many families with children on free school meals struggle with holiday hunger. This summer many families will be plunged into deeper poverty and social distancing raising questions on how some holiday lunch schemes may run. Parents are rightly concerned on how they will afford food during the summer holidays.

There have been several high-profile calls to reverse this decision including from the Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield and the Manchester United and England forward, Marcus Rashford.

Formal legal action by campaigners has now also been launched with lawyers starting the formal process of issuing judicial review proceedings against the Government over this decision.

Rachael Maskell MP for York Central, says:

“Covid-19 has plunged many families in our city into financial hardship, and this is likely to get worse over summer. It is utterly heart breaking to think that we are now in a situation where there is real risk of children going to bed hungry throughout the summer holidays.

I have spoken with and been contacted by parents who are absolutely terrified about what the future might hold. It is distressing beyond belief to know that some parents may be forced to decide whether to feed themselves or their children over the upcoming summer holidays, especially when the government could easily continue to provide free school meals over this period.

Further to this, we must ensure that the meals that are provided are proper, well balanced, nutritious hot meals that enable the children receiving them to thrive. Regrettably during this pandemic it has not always been the case, and I am continuing to work locally to ensure families can access enough food.

We also know that the time children have spent away from school during this crisis has meant existing inequalities have widened further. Children are like sponges soaking up their surroundings and are always learning. The summer holidays should not mean that disadvantaged children are left without access to food and therefore not as able to progress with their learning as their more advantaged peers. In York Central we already have the largest attainment gap in the country and therefore I am deeply concerned what this decision will mean for children, their families and our city going forward.

As a matter of urgency, the government should be looking at how to increase levels of social mobility to ensure that every child can achieve their potential over the summer and have the best start when they return to school. This of course begins with ensuring the very basic requirements are met, which currently, this government is drastically failing to do.”

Cllr. Bob Webb, Labour’s Spokesperson for Children and Young People says:

'Children in York from disadvantaged backgrounds are being further disadvantaged by this government refusing to come to their aid in this time of need. In York there is a need to tackle the attainment gap and sadly if you are hungry you are unlikely to be able to concentrate on learning in ideal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. We urgently need the government to rethink this move.'

Nearly 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals which are usually provided in school during term-time. However, while schools have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic a voucher scheme has been established instead and Schools can also provide meals or food parcels through their existing food provider or provide alternative vouchers for a local shop or supermarket.