Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets councils to provide free lunches for children during school holidays

A number of councils have heeded the call by footballer Marcus Rashford for children who receive fre

A number of councils have heeded the call by footballer Marcus Rashford for children who receive free school meals during term time to have them during the holidays too. Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets councils today said they would step up to feed hungry children over half term after the government rejected plans to fund free school meals during the holidays.

They have joined other Labour-run councils in promising to feed thousands of disadvantaged pupils during next week’s half term holiday following football star Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

They are also working on plans for the Christmas holidays.

Barking and Dagenham said food parcels for children and their families will be delivered to homes throughout the school holidays using its Citizens’ Alliance Network, which was set up at the beginning of the pandemic.

Leader Darren Rodwell said: “The rate of child poverty is almost 50 per cent in our borough and the government doesn’t seem to understand the need some children are in.

“We want to make sure no child or family is going hungry over the holidays just because they aren’t at school.”

The council added it had run food networks and three community food clubs throughout the pandemic, where families can get parcels as well as help and advice about work and finances.

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Mr Rodwell said: “We are also looking to do something more substantial over Christmas and are putting together hampers, as well as ordinary meal provisions, because its a special time of year and no one should miss out no matter what your circumstances,” he said.

Tower Hamlets has 15,223 children eligible for free school meals.

Mayor John Biggs said the council is working on plans to offer food provisions over the holidays because they “don’t want children going hungry over Christmas due to a disappointing decision made by government”.

Mr Biggs added: “The government’s approach to supporting families during this crisis has been to leave them to sink-or-swim, leaving many children at risk of going hungry. It’s shameful”

It comes after the Labour Party’s bid to extend free school meals was defeated in the Commons on Wednesday by 322 votes to 261.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We are committed to making sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected and we’ve put in place a strong package of support to ensure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.

“As we’ve set out, we are in a different position now – with schools back open to all and the vast majority of pupils back in school.

“So while schools continue to play an integral role in the community it is not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during school holidays.”