Redbridge Council to foot the bill for school meals

Redbridge Council will pay from its own budget to feed school children in need over Christmas after the Government voted not to provide funding.

On Wednesday evening (October 21), the Government voted 322 votes to 261 not to fund lunches for more than a million children in need over the half-term and Christmas holidays.

Vouchers to replace free school lunches were provided over the summer, after a campaign by footballer Marcus Ashford, given an MBE for his work.

Almost 7,000 children in Redbridge receive free school lunches, which cost the government £2.30 per child. This means the cost of providing them in Redbridge is around £16,000 a day.

Speaking at the council’s cabinet meeting on Thursday October 22, deputy leader Cllr Kam Rai said the Government had used “heartless rhetoric… blaming parents” to justify its decision.

He said: “Even if it was true, (that) does not mean their child does not deserve to get fed.

“We are going to have to, yet again, step up and find a way to support our residents and get some food to the most vulnerable kids in our borough.

“Hopefully we shame the Government into responding, hopefully they decide one way or another to do a U-turn and fund this by the time we hit Christmas.”

Redbridge Council faces a £43 million budget gap this year and will have to make cuts of more than £80 million by 2025.

Home Office Minister Kit Malthouse said the decision not to fund free meals was “a tough one”.

He said Government has raised Universal Credit by £20 a week, adjusted housing benefit to help people with their rent and given £63m to councils to help with hardship funding.

Families are eligible for free school meals if their child is in reception, Year 1 or Year 2 at a state school, regardless of their income.

From Year 3 on, children receive free school lunches if their parents are eligible for a number of benefit schemes, including Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit.

Five Conservative MPs rebelled against their party to vote for the Labour motion to continue funding the vouchers.

This includes MP Caroline Ansell, who quit her government job in protest following the vote.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter