Portsmouth City Council pledges £215k for free meals feed 7,000 needy children over Christmas after government snubs plan
PORTSMOUTH City Council will step in to provide free school meal vouchers for the city’s poorest children after the government refused to help.
Councillor Suzy Horton announced the cash-strapped local authority will hand out the vital vouchers for the families who will struggle to provide meals for their children over the festive period – at a cost of £215,000.
It means the city council will provide more than 7,000 children with £30 food vouchers during the Christmas period.
The move comes after the Tory government snubbed plans to extend a scheme for free school meals during the half-term and Christmas holidays.
Cllr Horton, head of children and families, was appalled by the decision and said the Lib Dem-led authority refused to let children go hungry over winter.
‘We are extremely disappointed that the government has decided not to fund the poorest families in the city with food for their children over the half term and future holidays,’ she added.
‘It was our hope that the government would continue to funding free school meals during the holidays but that hope has been dashed.’
Earlier this week Tory MPs, including Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, voted down a plea by Labour to back footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals.
The government is now facing fierce criticism from teachers, unions and parents who have branded the move ‘heartless’.
Cllr Horton said: ‘We do not want any child to go hungry and we support Marcus Rashford in his campaign for all families with children who receive free school meals to receive food vouchers when children are away from school for holidays. These are families on very low incomes who really need this support.’
She added the council had been unable ‘logistically’ to ‘find a way’ to fund free school meals over the October half-term, which for many begins today.
In all, the cash injection by the council will cover up to 7,050 children.
‘In this terrible situation of the Covid pandemic the city council will step in to make sure no child in Portsmouth goes hungry at Christmas,’ Cllr Horton said.
The council has also provided additional funding for foodbanks in the city and has let schools know how families can access this support.
Earlier this year, Boris Johnson was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn on offering free meals over the summer.
It followed a campaign by England and Manchester United striker Rashford urging the government to keep paying for the £15-a-week vouchers. He has since been made an MBE for his efforts.
Bowing to intense public pressure, Mr Johnson announced a £120m ‘covid summer food fund’ to fee 1.3 million pupils in England.
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