On 21st October, the UK Government voted against funding free school meals in England over October half-term. 322 Conservative MPs voted against extending the scheme, while 261 supported it.
During the first national lockdown, 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford started the campaign to end child hunger in England, and successfully pressured the government to fund free school meals over the Easter and Summer holidays.
Rashford took to Twitter to share his sadness over the decision not to extend the scheme into October, stating that “a significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today”. Rashford has since created a petition to encourage the government to reconsider their verdict, which has already reached over a million signatures.
The vote to discontinue these meals over half-term has had a widespread impact across Bath, with 4,000 children eligible for free school meals in Bath and North East Somerset. Kevin Guy, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Children’s Services, stated that he is working with cabinet colleagues and local charities to provide funding to feed these children up to the Easter holidays next year.
In the meantime, local businesses in Bath have rallied together to provide nutritious food over half term to combat child food poverty. Mission Burrito, Chandos Deli, The Mint Room, Lush and many more pledged to provide food for those in need.
Chandos Deli told Bath Time that they were delighted by the response from the local community and are happy to provide fruit, crisps and sandwiches. They also expressed their concern with the government’s decision, stating that the outcome of MPs’ vote ‘’doesn’t promote a united mindset. We are in this together and we need to help each other… they should set an example’’
So, what next? As half-term draws to a close, Labour councillors in Bath and North East Somerset said that they have submitted a motion to the next council meeting, on 12th November, which commits the council to providing £15 per week in vouchers for every child on free school meals over the two-week Christmas holiday. The Labour councillors stated that they want to see long-term solutions to the issue of child food poverty from “both the council and the government”.