On Wednesday last week in Parliament, the Labour Party called for the government to continue to fund Free School Meal (FSM) provision through the school holidays.

A national programme would be supporting over 1.4 million children this week, and help families make ends meet in extremely difficult circumstances.

There are now around 900,000 children living in areas subject to enhanced Covid restrictions, in areas like Rotherham. Figures show that 61% of the over 1.4 million children eligible for FSM are living in areas subject to the increased restrictions.

The Government previously made this commitment over the summer, but the Prime Minister’s spokesperson has now said that this is not the role of schools. Labour gave them a chance to change their position, but they have refused, and the Labour Party forced a vote in Parliament. Tory MPs voted this down.

Labour’s Deputy Leader of Rotherham Council and Lead Member for Children and Young People Cllr Gordon Watson had already written to the 3 Rotherham MPs asking them to support the funding of Free School Meals for children in the school holidays.

John Healey MP and Sarah Champion MP replied within a day to say they supported the call. Alexander Stafford MP still has yet to reply.

Cllr Gordon Watson has said:

It is a complete disgrace that an MP representing Rother Valley is prepared to vote to keep children in Rotherham hungry in the school holidays. He was a big supporter of the ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme, which cost the taxpayer half a billion pounds. So we can assume that like his party, the Rother Valley MP supports those who can afford to eat out having their pizzas at half price, but is not prepared to help families in need.

Cllr Gordon Watson, Deputy Leader of Rotherham Council
Cllr Gordon Watson, Deputy Leader of Rotherham Council

Following the parliamentary vote, Rotherham Council announced that it is joining at least 50 other councils across the country that will support parents with free school meals through this half term week, benefitting more than 8,000 local children.

Earlier this year, the Labour-led council announced an additional up to £200 reduction in council tax for the 14,000 poorest working age families in the borough, which is one of the most supportive such schemes anywhere in the country. The council’s Rotherham Heroes volunteer scheme has provided emergency food parcels to thousands of families across the borough as part of the council’s on-going commitment to fund food for those in financial crisis.

Cllr Gordon Watson has also said:

This is a time of great uncertainty for many families across our borough and with the new tier three restrictions coming into force this weekend, we know that this will lead to greater financial hardship for some of the borough’s poorest families.

“The financial pressure on all Councils, especially at this time, is greater than ever but no child should go hungry. Not ever.

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