CHILDREN in Warwickshire who rely on free school meals will not go hungry over the holidays.
Warwickshire County Council will continue to support vulnerable residents despite a parliamentary vote against extending free school meals over the holidays.
Local MPs who voted against the campaign – which was spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford – include Rugby MP Mark Pawsey, Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi and Kenilworth and Southam MP Jeremy Wright. Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western voted in favour.
Following the vote, Warwickshire Labour Group leader Coun Helen Adkins, with the backing of local Labour leaders, wrote to the council calling on it to ensure children would not go hungry over the holidays.
She said: “There are 11,411 children in Warwickshire who rely on free school meals, and we have a moral responsibility to look after them. They don’t stop needing lunch just because it is the school holidays.
“No child should go hungry, and I’m appalled that the government have decided that in the midst of a pandemic children should not be given access to the food they need.
“As political leaders in Warwickshire we cannot allow that to result in children going hungry. It should not be for local government to have to step in to pay for free school meals. But the government won’t, and someone has to.”
County council leader Izzi Seccombe announced the Warwickshire Local Welfare Scheme – which has provided more than £450,000 of support to families during the pandemic – will continue to help vulnerable residents.
The scheme, which has been in place for many years, will see children who rely on free school meals, as well as their younger non-school-age siblings aged two or above, continue to receive support through all holidays.
Coun Seccombe said: “We do not want people in Warwickshire feeling anxious and we do not want children going hungry over school holidays. Our local welfare scheme is there to support families and children, so this is what we will do.
“Our Warwickshire communities are really important to us and we are committed to supporting them.”
Mark Pawsey MP defended his Commons vote, pointing out he and his colleagues ‘have not voted to take free school meals from children’.
He said: “Both I and the government remain fully committed to free school meals. It is important to remember that free school meals are intended to support children while they are in school, and the overwhelming majority of schools have now reopened.
“It is my belief that the best way to support families and children is through the welfare system, not through providing supermarket vouchers as some have suggested. This ensures support is reliably delivered to those who need it most, when they need it most and in a way which allows families to spend it in the way which will best help them. The welfare system is set up to provide this direct support all the year round in a way in which schools are not.
“I also pay tribute to the work of Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council who have ensured that support provided by Government has been distributed to families locally who are most in need.”
The Warwickshire Local Welfare Scheme supports eligible families with the cost of food for their children over the school holiday periods. Call 0800 4081448 or 01926 359182 to apply.