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SCHOOL MEALS: Half-term child hunger pleas

SCHOOL MEALS: Half-term child hunger pleas

Billingham Food Bank, Image: Anna Twizell/Gazette

Renewed calls for the Government to fund school meals in half term holidays have been aired amid worry over youngsters going hungry. 

Stockton Council funded “holiday enrichment” through the October half term via its public health team.

But there were fresh pleas this week for the Government to foot the bill to help more than 7,200 children in the borough entitled to free school meals in half-term breaks.

The Department for Education funded the “Holiday activities and food programme” this year – offering a budget of £910,000 in Stockton for Easter, summer and Christmas holidays to fund programmes for youngsters on free school meals.

The Government also created a £500m “Household Support Fund” last month to be distributed to councils to help households in need with food, energy and water bills.

Some councils have used this to provide vouchers for struggling families during half term breaks.

But some councillors at the latest children and young people select committee wanted to the Government do more during half term breaks.

Chairwoman Cllr Carol Clark was puzzled why half terms hadn’t been covered by funding.

She said: “In my opinion they should.”

Charity group Catalyst has helped run the holiday enrichment programmes across the borough.

Karen Grundy, from Catalyst, told councillors how the effect of Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford had pushed the subject on.

“Until this year, there was a small pot of money for local authorities to bid to,” she added.

“This year, they’ve given it to every local authority.

“(Stockton) Public health, because they’ve always done it, then use their money for the half term holidays so we can cover every one of them.”

Cllr Norma Stephenson praised the work Catalyst was doing but was unhappy with hunger levels.

“I’m ashamed of the fact it’s now becoming the norm that councils and the voluntary sector now have to feed children,” she said.

“We just accept child poverty is out there and they’re not getting fed properly.”

The wider review on child poverty is looking at what can be done to help the estimated 4,000 children in the borough living in homes without food security.

Martin Gray, director of children’s services, said the wider national holiday activities programme was “incredibly prescriptive” and “very rules orientated”.

“It’s very clear about how it should be delivered and the funding is given on that basis,” he added.

“That’s one of the things for this committee to think about. If there was £900,000 to tackle child poverty, would we do it in this exact way?”

Conservative Cllr Dan Fagan said the six figure sum was “quite a large amount of money” from central government.

In response to the calls, A DfE spokesperson said: “The Government recently confirmed our Holiday Activities and Food programme will continue supporting children during the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks, providing healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children, building on the activity seen in every local authority in England during this year.”

 

Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter


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