Archbishop of Canterbury calls for extension of free school meals provision

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Durham have urged the Government to extend free school meals, highlighting the “harrowing” number of families it is thought could be destitute by Christmas.

The Most Rev Justin Welby and the Rt Revd Paul Butler called on the Government to provide free school meals to every child whose family was on universal credit, and expand holiday provision to all children on free school meals.

Their pleas come after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford forced the Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy during lockdown, ensuring children did not go hungry over the summer period.

The food bank charity the Trussell Trust said that 46,000 food parcels would need to be provided to people in crisis between October and December this winter – an increase of 61% on last year.

They estimated that an additional 670,000 people would be destitute by the end of 2020, a prediction that Mr Welby and Bishop Butler described as “harrowing”.

The archbishop and bishop said it would be “vital for those most disadvantaged” that schools in their communities stayed open, but that teachers “can only do so much on their own” and needed appropriate funding to help tackle child hunger and poverty.

They cited examples such as St Mark’s secondary school in Bath, where 20% of students attend a breakfast club.

Appealing to the Government, the religious leaders said: “All schools must have the appropriate resources to be able to address issues of child hunger and poverty and expand their role as places of security for children who are at risk, whilst maintaining safety at school.”

They also advocated a “nature premium” to encourage youngsters to play outdoors to aid their learning as well as their physical and mental health.

They continued: “This can’t just be plucked out of thin air – schools and their staff are already at their limits when it comes to time and funding.”

Praising the volunteers who have looked after young people during the pandemic, they hailed Mr Rashford as one of “many heroes” for his free school meals campaign.

The England forward has since formed a child food poverty task force, linking up with some of the biggest supermarkets and food brands including Aldi, Tesco, Deliveroo and Kellogg’s.

The archbishop and bishop also commended Norwich Diocese’s Filling the Gap project, which provided 128 families with 26,082 meals over six weeks.