Val Barron of Communities Together Durham, and leader with Tyne & Wear Citizens, blogs about the importance of free school meal provision in light of Covid-19 and why it should be continued through the school holidays.
Over the last 5 years, Communities Together Durham has supported churches across Durham Diocese to provide holiday clubs to support children and their families during the school holidays. Hundreds of volunteers, many elderly, have rallied to provide days out, sports, drama and craft activities; bringing people together for fun, food and friendship. We estimate that over 6000 meals every year were provided for children and their families struggling financially at a time when Free School Meals are not available.
As schools were forced to close due to COVID-19 we began to hear the same stories, of children going hungry because they were not receiving Frees School Meals.
As members of Tyne and Wear Citizens we have been organising with other concerned leaders from across Citizens UK, to ensure that No Child goes Hungry during this crisis. With great support from headteachers, parents and MPs we are organising to shape government provision so that it’s usable and accessible for all who need it.
One of our key concerns is around the school holidays; the government announced that support would be provided during the Easter holidays but have not yet made the same commitment for the May and Summer holidays.
Vicky Ford MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families) in replying to a question tabled by Sharon Hodgson MP on 22nd April said ‘We currently have no plans to extend the scheme into future holiday periods but will keep the situation under review. However, the department remains committed to supporting children and families through our 2020 Holiday Activities and Food programme and continues to work with coordinators on appropriate provision this summer’.
As providers of support during the summer holidays (and usually the only provision in the communities we work in) we are concerned that more children will find themselves hungry with this approach – even if children return to schools long before this.
We do not except the economy or family budgets to recover fully before the upcoming holidays. I have spoken to schools, families, clergy and volunteers who are anxious about this. As one vicar in Sunderland said ‘we are really struggling to see how we can possibly respond this summer and that worries me’.
The Government are expected to make an announcement this weekend about how some children and young people might begin to return to school. Alongside this announcement, schools and families need reassurance that Free School Meal provision will not be forgotten and children will not go hungry.
As leaders from across Citizens UK, we are therefore calling on the government to extend the cover of free school meal provision over the May-half term and the long summer break.
Please join us by writing to your MP here: https://startafire.co/citizensuk/just-change/no-child-left-hungry