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Conservative County Council refuses to support Marcus Rashford's Free School Meal appeal

October 22, 2020 9:09 AM
Originally published by Hertfordshire Liberal Democrats

At Tuesday's meeting of Hertfordshire County Council the Lib Dem motion supporting Marcus Rashford's proposal to extend Free School Meals through the holidays until Easter 2021, the leader of the Council, David Williams, and the Executive Member for Education, Libraries and Localism instructed their group to vote against it and the motion was defeated.

County Councillor Mark Watkin, Lib Dem spokesperson for Education had proposed that In light of the Welsh Government's decision and the call by Marcus Rashford for free schools meals to be made available in all school holidays until next Easter, this council calls on the UK Government to initiate and fund such provision, and asks the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Education to inform them of this resolution."

Mark presented the Council with the harsh reality of the impacts of the COVID pandemic on working families and children which are:

  • 2.2m children between 8 and 17 are currently registered for free school meals. This is almost one child in three!
  • Of these 900,000 or 42% have registered since the COVID crisis emerged.
  • The families affected come from every group in society. 64% of these new children come from families where the main earner was in a higher income occupation.
  • 32% of households with children have experienced a significant drop in income since the pandemic started.
  • The Office for Budgetary Responsibility has estimated that in the worst case scenario unemployment could rise to 13.2% by the end of Q1 2021 so the current situation is likely to get far worse before effective vaccination, warmer weather and, who knows, herd immunity begin to stem the tide.

As Mark explained virtually any child from any family could find themselves facing hardship or poverty with their parents unemployed and struggling to provide life's essentials. The situation is serious enough now, it will get far worse.

This scheme is a relatively low cost approach which had been used before and could easily be reintroduced with an impact that could make all the difference to these families and children, but in spite of this, the Conservative group in the County Council voted to do nothing other than to expect the Government to meet this need, and the motion was defeated.