Doctors and school heads: childhood hunger should transcend politics

Norfolk businesses are stepping in to help feed children this half term after Marcus Rashford's camp

Norfolk businesses are stepping in to help feed children this half term after Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals did not get government backing. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Paediatricians and headteachers have expressed dismay at the Government’s ‘refusal’ to extend free school meals to vulnerable children during the holidays.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has led the campaign to extend free school meals vouchers into h

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has led the campaign to extend free school meals vouchers into holidays until next Easter. Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire - Credit: PA

More than 2,000 doctors specialising in child health have signed an open letter saying they were shocked by the decision not to extend free child meals in the holidays until Easter, and praised footballer Marcus Rashford for his “powerful campaigning” on the issue.

The open letter from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) members says: “Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics.

“Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant L

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

MORE: ‘Our position is the right one’ - Norfolk MP defends voting against free school meal extensionDr Max Davie, RCPCH officer for health improvement, said: “We’re a rich country. This isn’t about money, it’s about making sure people have food to eat, and it’s about doing the right thing for children who need a hand up.

“We shouldn’t have to fight for food vouchers when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”


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Meanwhile Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said heads were “deeply disappointed” by the decision not to extend a “simple measure that would so obviously help to alleviate the hardship faced by many families during the Covid emergency”.

The free school meal voucher scheme introduced for children unable to attend school due to coronavir

The free school meal voucher scheme introduced for children unable to attend school due to coronavirus was extended over the summer holidays. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Some 13,953 children in Norfolk schools currently receive free school meals.

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After Marcus Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs in June the Government agreed to extend the free school meals vouchers in England - for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible - to cover the summer holidays as a six-week “one off”.

Mr Barton said: “It is our view that free school meal provision for eligible children should be extended to holiday periods on a permanent basis because of the clear educational and health benefits of good nutrition, but the case for doing so in the immediate straitened circumstances of the current crisis is surely overwhelming.

Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester with his mother (left), which is naming a new

Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester with his mother (left), which is naming a new warehouse in her honour. Picture: Fareshare/Mark Waugh/PA Wire - Credit: PA

“We understand the spending pressures faced by the government, but it is wrong to put saving money before children’s welfare, and it should think again.”

MORE: Where to go for help in feeding your child over half termMr Rashford, who has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has said he used food banks and received free meals during his underprivileged childhood in Manchester.

After the Government agreed to extend the scheme over the summer, Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Norfolk-based Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), which supports young people, said: “Free school meals are a lifeline, the difference between being able to afford enough food and not for some families.

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project in Norwich. Picture: Simon Finlay

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project in Norwich. Picture: Simon Finlay - Credit: Simon Finlay

“It’s also great the way the campaign was led as well, I think that is really positive with Marcus Rashford being someone who has had those experiences.”

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