Free school meals during holidays called for at Hertfordshire County Council

PUBLISHED: 08:55 28 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:28 28 October 2020

Free school meals in Hertfordshire. Picture: Michael Penty

Free school meals in Hertfordshire. Picture: Michael Penty

MichaelPenty

Free school meals during the holidays is set to be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of Hertfordshire County Council after the Prime Minister refused to extend the provision during the October half-term and Christmas break.

Offering free meals this half-term, was inspired by footballer Marcus Rashfords campaign. Picture: MIKE EGERTON/PA WIRE/PA IMAGESOffering free meals this half-term, was inspired by footballer Marcus Rashfords campaign. Picture: MIKE EGERTON/PA WIRE/PA IMAGES

Five Liberal Democrat county councillors want Herts to set up its own local system – even if it has to be funded from the council’s own reserves – and the date is to be set shortly.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst says this will be the first time an extraordinary meeting has been called by the opposition in more than 10 years.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst said: “It’s essential that the county, as the education authority, steps up to the mark if the government will not” and added that its a “disgrace” that children could go hungry during school holidays.

“If the government will not find the money then Herts County Council with millions in reserves must step in.

“It must act and follow the lead that other Conservative-run councils have taken.

“The county may have missed the boat for this half term, but there are other school holidays coming up and it must act now.”

Already, Stevenage Borough Council and North Herts District Council have pledged to provide meals for kids during the holidays, while an extraordinary meeting has already been called at Hertsmere Borough Council by Labour and the Lib Dems.

Potters Bar Labour councillor Christian Gray, who will propose the Hertsmere motion, said: “I truly believed that the Conservatives might see beyond ideology and join the opposition parties in ensuring that the poorest kids in the country would not go hungry this winter. This was clearly too much to ask. Preventing over a million kids from going without food should not be political. Our children deserve better.”

These sentiments were echoed by councillor Kieran Thorpe, Labour group leader in Welwyn Hatfield, who has started a petition to HCC and Welwyn Hatfield to provide meals during the holidays for schoolchildren.

Cllr Thorpe said: “In Welwyn Hatfield this would have been a lifeline for over two thousand young children and cost a fraction of the huge amounts of public money transferred into the hands of private companies for COVID projects that have almost universally ended in abject failure.”

Meanwhile at a Hertfordshire County Council meeting on October 20, the ongoing work of England footballer Marcus Rashford – to make sure all children have enough to eat during the school holidays – was highlighted.

And a motion – amended by the Conservative group – agreed that the council “expects” the government to “judge” the role of social security payments to “ensure that families struggling to feed children through the school holidays are supported effectively”.

But councillors stopped short of calling on the government to extend the of provision of free school meals in school holidays.

At that meeting the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Cllr Mark Watkin highlighted the 2.2 million school children aged between eight and 17, who were currently registered for free school meals across the country.

And he stressed that 900,000 of these children had become eligible since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the request for the extraordinary meeting, deputy leader of the county council Cllr Teresa Heritage has stepped in to highlight the support that’s already available.

And in a statement issued by the county council, Cllr Heritage – who is also executive member for children, young people and families – said: “We remain committed to supporting families at this difficult time and want to reassure all our residents that help is at hand for those who need it right now.

“We work closely with families across the county and support several schemes and initiatives providing additional extra help, including financial support, food and provision of other household supplies to families in need.

“Over the past six months we have provided additional support to more than 3,500 children and young people.

“We’ve worked more closely than ever with local voluntary and community groups, including providing £120,000 of funding for local foodbanks, enabling them to use their local knowledge to best meet the needs of their communities.

“We’ve offered grants to families facing financial difficulties to help with the costs of food, bills and the purchase of other household essentials, and these grants are still available.

“We have created a brand-new social care team to provide support to families adversely affected by the pandemic, including many who wouldn’t previously have accessed services.

“We understand the strength of feeling around the issue of holiday hunger in our communities, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many families across the county.

“Ultimately, no child in Hertfordshire should be going hungry and we are working hard to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

Hertfordshire County Council leader Cllr David Williams also told the Times yesterday that they had already spent the money the government had allocated for vulnerable families on food banks, asylum-seeker charities and the Good Samaritans.

More information about Herts Help can be found at hertshelp.net.

And it can be contacted at info@hertshelp.net or by calling 0300 123 4044.

More information on Welwyn Hatfield Labour’s petition can be found here whlabour.org.uk/petition-no-to-holiday-hunger-in-herts.


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