Sheffield MPs criticise Government for its “cruel” decision on free school meals

The city’s Labour MPs have written to the Government to express their anger at its refusal to provide free school meal vouchers during the Easter holidays.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 8:49 am

Clive Betts, Olivia Blake, Paul Blomfield, Gill Furniss and Louise Haigh have written a joint letter to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, calling it a “cruel” refusal.

The Government says it will not fund free school meals during the two-week Easter holidays but will instead provide hampers to eligible families for just one week.

The MPs say unlike vouchers or cash, hampers prevent parents from choosing the food appropriate for their own children.

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Sheffield's five Labour MPs. Top row: Gill Furniss; Paul Blomfield; Louise Haigh Bottom row: Clive Betts; Olivia Blake

The hampers sparked an outcry in January after the new lockdown was introduced and parents shared pictures of the paltry supplies that were provided to children who were staying at home.

Footballer Marcus Rashford said the food parcels were “just not good enough” and food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe described them as a “poverty picnic”.

Following the backlash, the Government was forced to U-turn and allowed all schools to supply parents with vouchers but it has now reverted back to hampers.

The MPs say Sheffield Council has been explicitly told by the Department for Education that it cannot use government funding to provide families with vouchers instead.

In their letter, they say: “Many families in Sheffield and across the country are reeling from losing their jobs and incomes.

“The logic behind the plan to provide hampers for just half of the Easter break is unfathomable. The Government’s decision to feed hungry children for one week of the holidays but not the other is as bizarre as it is cruel.

“It beggars belief that Ministers seemingly learnt nothing from the episode in January and are now actively preventing local authorities from providing families with vouchers once again.

“The Government must abandon this position and ensure that all families who are eligible for free school meals receive cash or vouchers for food throughout the holidays.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.