Westminster Labour Group has called on the Council to lobby the government to commit to reinstating the free school meal voucher scheme through the summer holidays.
More than 1.3 million children across the country rely on free school meals. The number of families in need is likely to be much greater as the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of families into financial insecurity, meaning parents who did not previously qualify for free school meals may now be eligible. Department for Education figures published in the January 2019 Schools Census revealed that over 5,491 pupils in Westminster were eligible for and claiming free school meals at the time of the census. Following pressure from parents, pupils, teachers and campaigners, Government ministers reversed their original intention and decided to maintain the free school meal voucher scheme over the Easter school holiday. Labour has called on the council to pressure the government do the same for the longer summer holidays.
Cllr Tim Roca, Shadow Cabinet member for Children’s Services said: “I fully support 16-year old Christina Adane’s petition asking the Prime Minister & Government ‘not to abandon her and the other 1.3 million children’ in the UK ‘by taking away free school meals’ in the summer holiday.The free school meal voucher system is a crucial lifeline to many, which often means the difference between children eating or not eating”.
Public Health England’s ‘Disparities in the risks and outcomes of Covid-19’ report, which was released this week, shines a light on the disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on those living in deprivation – the report clearly states ‘The mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas were more than double the least deprived areas, for both males and females’, and it concludes that ‘people in deprived areas are more likely to be diagnosed and to have poor outcomes following diagnosis than those in less deprived areas.’ Labour believes the Government must do all it can to tackle these structural inequalities, not exacerbate them.