Last week, the government declared that it would not fund free school meals over the summer holidays but, following pressure from the Labour Party, campaign groups and high-profile figures like Marcus Rashford, has now reversed this decision.
This is another welcome u-turn from Boris Johnson, although it does beggar belief that the government ever planned to scrap free school meals in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Nearly 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals which are usually provided in school during term-time according to the latest data. This number is likely to rise as the number of families claiming unemployment-related benefits increases due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Sheffield Heeley, over four thousand children rely on free school meals, so holiday hunger is a hugely important issue for our area. Thank you to all those people who spoke out and pressured the government to reverse its decision.
But even with free school meals in place, I know that many families struggle to make ends meet and food bank volunteers have told me that they’ve had a huge spike in demand since lockdown began.
Research from the Food Foundation shows that more than 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access the food they needed during lockdown.
Earlier this month, the Trussell Trust also reported a soaring 89% increase in the need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared to the same month last year, including a 107% rise in parcels given to children, while the number of families with children receiving parcels has almost doubled compared to the same period last year.
The risk of holiday hunger is not unique to the Covid-19 pandemic. Every year, children eligible for free school meals are at risk of holiday hunger and an additional two million pupils who do not receive free school meals, but whose parents experience in-work poverty, are also estimated to be at risk.
So, I’ll continue to work with schools, food banks and other community groups to help organise fundraising and provide food parcels for those in need.