Food writer Jack Monroe has said the ongoing campaign around free school meals highlights a “chasm of injustice”.
Ms Monroe highlighted the need for year-round food vouchers amid criticism of the Government’s scheme to offer free food to struggling families via councils over February half-term in England.
Department for Education guidance said schools did not need to provide parcels or vouchers during the break as food would be provided by councils under the Covid Winter Grant Scheme (CWGS).
Statement on the removal (yet again!) of the Free School Meals vouchers during the half term holidays. Less than 24 hours after they #BringBackTheVouchers! This is callous and shocking beyond belief. Just #FeedTheChildren@BorisJohnson ! #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTYpic.twitter.com/YoYFOv7TzJ
— Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) January 14, 2021
The food writer told the PA news agency that the CWGS support for families over half-term is a “postcode lottery”, and that vouchers should instead by prioritised.
“The problem with the winter grant is that it’s been devolved to local councils, so it is a complete postcode lottery, there’s no consistency in how it’s applied,” they told PA.
“The vouchers and the free school meals were a level playing field.”
The food writer and campaigner added: “There are so many good organisations and people out there working day and night to sort out the problems that we already have.
“To have another spanner thrown in the works of an issue that’s already been hard fought for, already been debated, already been won… I’m incoherent with fury.
“It was only yesterday that the Government U-turned on the shabby, awful food parcels that were being doled out.”
There is wider government support in place to support families and children with meals during February half term through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, delivered by local authoritieshttps://t.co/BpPVoOdMRE
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) January 14, 2021
Ms Monroe said they had received “thousands” of messages on Twitter from affected families since the announcement.
“The group of people who are now requiring food aid in this country is not just single mums on benefits anymore, it never was. It’s nurses who are using food banks, teachers, all sorts of people from all walks of life,” they said.
“There’s a yawning chasm of injustice, and people only ever seem to be furious about people on one end of it… while you’re staying angry at people who are genuinely suffering, you are not looking at the things which are wrong with the system.
“It’s more important that we just unite and focus, and say ‘how do we get these kids fed’. We can sort out political ideology and everything else afterwards.”
Just had a good conversation with the Prime Minister. He has assured me that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place. He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 13, 2021
Footballer Marcus Rashford has also stepped up pressure on Boris Johnson over free school meals in England with a call for an urgent review of the Government’s policy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, backed by more than over 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, Mr Rashford welcomed the “robustness” of his response to the “inadequate” meal parcels being provided by some private companies.
However, the letter said that after a series of problems – including over vouchers and the holiday provision of meals – had arisen during the pandemic, it was the right time to “step back and review the policy in more depth”.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 14, 2021
Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: “Government was explicit that CWGS was not intended to replicate or replace free school meals, but was to enable councils to support low income households, particularly those at risk of food poverty as we moved towards economic recovery.
“Government should provide food vouchers to eligible families during February half-term as it did last summer, with councils using CWGS funding to provide additional support with partners where necessary.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half-term via councils through the £170 million CWGS launched last year.
“Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.”