Those eligible for free school meals to get £15 worth for food over half term
Tesco vouchers will be given to thousands of low-income families by Hammersmith and Fulham Council next week to stop children going hungry.
With unemployment rising in the capital, the £15 vouchers will be offered during half term (October 26-30) to families of children entitled to free school meals.
It was announced after a huge row in Parliament, in which Conservative MPs defeated Labour in a vote on whether the Government should help feed poorer families next week.
And it comes after months of campaigning by England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, who helped force the Government into a U-turn on whether to provide food support over the summer holidays.
Councillor Larry Culhane, the Labour council’s cabinet member for education, said: “We’ve been doing a lot of work on food poverty for a few years now… a lot of the groundwork was already there.
“We turned the whole thing around really quickly. Tesco got the vouchers to us yesterday and we’re distributing them in school today, so thanks to Tesco for getting them turned around super quickly, within hours.”
Asked if the council will offer the same help over Christmas, Cllr Culhane said, “I hope the Government realises it made a massive mistake. Hopefully they will think ‘maybe we got this wrong’ and step in at Christmas. But we will do everything we can, we won’t look the other way.”
He added: “It’s great that Marcus Rashford stood up for children and we’re happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him and other authorities and businesses who are helping. Although I wish he played for Fulham.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said in Parliament this week: “we have undertaken significant ways to help the most vulnerable children in society”, and that £9.3 billion has been spent on welfare during the pandemic.
In addition to the vouchers, the council will also deliver breakfasts to 600 local pupils who are “most in need”.
The council said there has been a 22 per cent increase in demand for free school meals in the past year, which is expected to increase due to the economic consequences of the pandemic.
The vouchers will be paid for using Section 106 money – which the council receives from negotiations with property developers who are given planning permission for large-scale developments.
The council has £33 million of proposed uses for Section 106 money between now and April 2023. Redevelopments of the Olympia and the Talgarth Road Magistrates’ Court are expected to net the council £14.5 million.
Hammersmith and Fulham already provides free breakfasts to all primary school children in the borough.
In January it launched a “pioneering” pilot scheme to give free lunches to all pupils at two secondary schools – Fulham College Boys’ School and Woodlane High School.
Elsewhere in the capital, Kensington and Chelsea Council has announced it too will pay for food for 3,300 children this half term. Southwark Council in south London, and Redbridge Council in east London have also announced food schemes.
Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter