Plan to feed Wakefield kids at Christmas if government won't extend free school meals scheme

Public sector organisations in Wakefield may step in to help feed disadvantaged children, if the government's free school meals scheme does not run during the Christmas holidays.

Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 6:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 6:13 pm
The government is yet to commit to extending free school meals into the holidays permanently.

The government U-turned and agreed to extend a voucher scheme for school pupils into the summer holidays this year after a campaign led by the footballer Marcus Rashford.

But despite calls for the government to permanently run the scheme outside of school term time and end holiday hunger, it has not committed to doing so.

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Holiday hunger among children entitled to free dinners in school has been a hotpoint of debate for several years.

As a result, Wakefield's Covid recovery board has said it will put forward its own plans to help feed local youngsters during the festive period, if the government's stance remains the same by then.

The recovery board is made up of representatives from the local council, police force, Citizen's Advice and business and education leaders.

Speaking at a meeting of the board on Monday, Councillor Maureen Cummings said it would be difficult to put a meals scheme in place before the October half-term holiday.

However, she said a number of local councillors are running initiatives in their own wards.

Coun Cummings said: "It's the first holiday next week so we'd be very pushed to do anything for then.

"Even if the government turn round and say they'll issue the vouchers I think they'll have difficulty getting them out for next week."

Local Citizen's Advice chief executive Simon Topham told the meeting that a plan for the October half-term had been considered, but it was felt that the money would be better used at Christmas when life will be "tougher" for many of the families financially hit by the pandemic.

He added: "By Christmas the number of families impacted by unemployment will have risen, they'll have reached the end of their reserves and the situation will be more desperate.

"We thought it was best to keep the funds that might be available in reserve for what might be a worse situation then.

"It's not only a longer school holiday, but it's the time of year and the effects on families struggling through unemployment may be much worse by Christmas.

"So if the government does not reverse its position we will step forward with proposals before the Christmas holidays."

Local Democracy Reporting Service