Northumberland Tory councillor says Government wrong on free school meals

A Tory councillor in Northumberland has said the Government is wrong not to extend free school meals over the upcoming holidays.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 8:33 pm
Cllr Wayne Daley
Cllr Wayne Daley

Cllr Wayne Daley, who was the county council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services until his resignation from those roles in August, is also calling for a longer-term solution through school kitchens being used to support communities outside term-time.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that Northumberland should be a national exemplar by running pilots in areas such as Ashington and Blyth.

Highlighting a Scottish scheme which uses a voucher system to provide food 365 days a year, he added: “What I’m talking about is using our fixed assets better.

“I can’t believe how people have missed a trick; we have school kitchens which can feed 800 people and they’re not doing that for 13 weeks of the year.”

Following the petition on ending child hunger by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, a Labour motion for £15-a-week food vouchers to be provided for eligible children during the school holidays up to Easter 2021 – as was the case during the summer – was put to the House of Commons this week.

However, the Conservatives were whipped to vote against the motion, with Ministers saying that the Government was providing the necessary support in other ways, such as the Universal Credit system.

Cllr Daley noted that 32% of working families have experienced reductions in their incomes during Covid and that Government support, while good, is ‘still not quite enough to meet the need that is out there’.

He also highlighted that extending the vouchers through the coming holidays was a ‘minimal cost for pretty immediate impact’ in the context of the billions spent elsewhere and schemes like Eat Out to Help Out.

Some Tories did defy the whip, but all three of Northumberland’s Conservative MPs – Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Ian Levy and Guy Opperman – voted against.

Earlier this week, Mrs Trevelyan said: “The new Universal Credit system is tapered to enable families to be supported in and out of work, according to their needs.

“If any family finds they are struggling to afford to feed their children, they should get in touch with me, so I can help them access the help they need. My team and I stand ready to help anyone who needs us.”

Speaking to BBC Newcastle on Thursday, October 22, Cllr Daley said: “It was an opposition day vote yesterday and the result was not good, which I’ve been very vocal about.

“I believe the Government will probably change its mind as it did over the last holidays.

“They have done a lot, I’m confident they have done a lot during this pandemic, but on this, they are wrong.”

Support during the next holidays is important, he said, ‘but it’s a longer-term solution we need’.

“One of the things that I’ve been calling for is that our schools are closed for 13 weeks a year and their kitchens could be opened up, they could provide meals not just for children, but to our communities, including older people,” he explained.

“We could set up a whole network of volunteering, training and vocational opportunities to use the infrastructure we close 13 weeks of the year.

“We need to resurrect after-school activities and breakfast clubs, because free school meals make a difference.”

Addressing the critics who suggest parents can afford to feed their children if they don’t waste money and that real poverty and hunger doesn’t exist in this country in this day and age, he added: “There are some families who are really challenged, there are some students who go to school who are not fed properly and that meal is really vital for them.

“No family has a child wanting that child to fail in life, every family wants the best for their child, it’s about what we can do as a society, as a Government and as local councils to improve the lives of those children.

“At the end of the day, all those people saying those things forget one key thing, it’s not the child who should be punished for the actions of others.”

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