Doctors and school heads: childhood hunger should transcend politics
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Paediatricians and headteachers have expressed dismay at the Government’s ‘refusal’ to extend free school meals to vulnerable children during the holidays.
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.”
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”.
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.
“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.
“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.”