Free school meals: Camden Council commits to feeding children while other boroughs urged to follow suit

Georgia Gould's Camden Council assured Marcus Rashford it would step in to offer Free School Meals over school holidays.

Georgia Gould's Camden Council assured Marcus Rashford it would step in to offer Free School Meals over school holidays. Pictures: PA - Credit: Archant

After the government this week voted against continuing to provide free school meals to schoolchildren over the October half-term holiday, Camden Council became one of many around the country to confirm it would step in.

On Friday morning the town hall said it would support every child who needs it in the borough.

Councils, voluntary sector organisations and businesses around the country have, in response to a campaign led by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, promised to make sure children who would otherwise rely on free school meals during term-time are fed.

Camden Council tweeted: “We will make sure that no child goes hungry in Camden this half term - every child who needs our support will get it.”

Details of the provision are awaited.

READ MORE: Food poverty exposed by Covid-19 pandemic ‘cannot be unseen’ says JW3 community centre

Camden said vouchers for supermarkets would be available to all Camden families with children aged 18 or younger who receive benefits.

The council hopes this will help up to 6,800 families, with 13,000 children.

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The vouchers will be issued directly “early next week” and the town hall is working with schools, nurseries and children’s services to distribute them.

If families who meet the criteria have not been contacted and received a voucher by the end of Wednesday, October 28, they should call the council on 020 7974 4444 (option 9).

Cllr Georgia Gould, the council leader, said: “In a borough with as much wealth as Camden, we must step up to our shared responsibility to care for every child who grows up here – particularly the most vulnerable. Child hunger won’t be solved by food vouchers, and government must take action with councils to address the root causes – poverty and entrenched inequality.

“Whilst we wait for government, we will step in to ensure that all children at risk can get food whilst schools are closed for the half-term break.”

On October 21, MPs rejected a Labour motion to fund free school meals outside of term time this year by 322 votes to 261.

Home Office minister Kit Malthouse insisted the government was helping low-income families through the welfare system.

Before the vote, Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq – who is also shadow children’s minister – wrote to fellow MPs pleading with them to vote to extend free school meal provision.

She said: “Families across the country are worrying about how to make ends meet, but the Prime Minister is ruling out giving over a million children food support over the holidays.”

Raymond Simonson, chief exec at the JW3 Jewish community centre in Finchley Road, tweeted in response to the ongoing campaign: “We will not stop doing everything within our (limited in our case) power to try and help alleviate the catastrophic impact of food poverty [on] families and vulnerable people living near JW3 and around Camden.”

Haringey Council has announced families of children who usually receive Free School Meals will get a £15 voucher and it is also boosting six local food banks with funding to help if families are still struggling.

Meanwhile in Barnet, after Barnet’s opposition Labour leader Cllr Barry Rawlings urged Conservative counterpart Cllr Dan Thomas to step in and called for the Tory group to show “compassion”, the town hall committed £50,000 to a new “Space2Grow” grant scheme for needy children over the holidays in partnership with the Young Barnet Foundation.

The council said it had also boosted the coffers of local food banks.

Cllr Thomas said: “Sadly, food deprivation can be one of the many unfortunate consequences of the devastating impact of Covid-19, affecting people across the borough including school children, the elderly and the vulnerable.

“I am delighted that Barnet Council has been able to work with Young Barnet Foundation to establish the Space2Grow: School Holiday Food Grant Fund, and provided £50,000 to ensure that schemes helping to feed our most vulnerable young people have the resources they need.”

Cllr Rawlings had said: “As someone who benefited from free school meals and whose mother was a school dinner lady this is a cause close to my heart. It is wrong to allow children to go hungry. The Barnet MPs have let local children and families down so Barnet Council must do the right thing and provide these meals.”

The Westminster Labour group’s children’s spokesperson, Cllr Tim Roca, said: “Westminster Council must step in and make sure that in one of the world’s wealthiest cities, children are not allowed to go hungry this winter. Over 5000 children in our city are eligible for free school meals, in a borough with some of the worst child poverty in London”.

Karen Buck, Westminster North MP (Lab), said: “We need Westminster Council to step in and help struggling families now that Conservatives in government have failed to act. We know that applications for the free school meal voucher scheme are increasing in Westminster, and that there is real hardship being faced by more and more of our residents.”

Haringey, Barnet and Westminster councils have all been approached by this newspaper and asked whether they will be committing to the same level of support.

This page will be updated.