Southend Council in bid to cover school meals programme

The administration of Southend Council is looking to ensure that no child goes hungry this Christmas after the Government voted not to extend the Free School Meals programme to cover the Christmas holidays as the country remains in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of this response, the council is looking to call a “community summit” to coordinate the entire community in responding to this challenge.

Cllr Anne Jones, cabinet member for Children & Learning, said: “We are deeply disappointed by the government’s decision not to fund a nationwide Free School Meals programme.

As a council we have seen our budget hit by the consequences of COVID, but we still intend to act to make sure no child goes hungry in Southend.

“We are investigating the cost and practicality of a council-backed scheme to provide free school meals to eligible children over the Christmas holiday. Additionally, we are working to convene a summit of food banks and other charities to make sure that there are no gaps in provision.”

Cllr Trevor Harp, cabinet member for Health & Adult Social Care, added: “The economic consequences of COVID mean that this is going to be a Christmas like no other, with the potential for many families to be pushed in to poverty.

“Despite the government’s refusal to act, we have been deeply moved by the enthusiasm shown by charities and by ordinary residents to make sure that no child goes without.

“We have already made arrangements to make sure that the council’s annual toy drive still goes ahead, to bring festive cheer where we can.

“Whilst currently Southend remains in the ‘medium’ tier and so not subject to the more stringent regulations in place in other parts of the country, we simply do not know what the situation at Christmas will be, and must be prepared for any eventuality.”

Mick Ferris

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