Government food bill has financial flaws

Leeds and North West food bank in Moortown.'2nd August 2017.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds and North West food bank in Moortown.'2nd August 2017.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Proposals to make it law for local councils to provide free meals for children who would otherwise go hungry during school holidays should be treated with caution.

The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, already backed by 114 MPs, will be presented to Parliament next week and would place a legal duty upon local authorities to ensure free meals and activities are provided for youngsters who would otherwise go without during the holidays.

Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, is calling on the Government to ring-fence £41.5 million to enable local authorities to finance the measure.

However, Coun Patrick Davey, Labour member for City and Hunslet, said while the idea would be supported it would create a further financial burden on already cash-strapped authorities.

He said: “The government makes promises and leaves it to local councils to fund. Three weeks ago, in the middle of the school holidays, I visited my foodbank in Hunslet and there were 20 kids having breakfast.

“That was just my experience and there are 22 foodbanks across Leeds. £41bn for the entire country, for a year, when you do the maths that will be a really small figure.”

Our Feed A Family campaign revealed 4500 children in Leeds would go hungry during school holidays if it were not for foodbanks and that is 3m for the whole country.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, executive member for Children and Families and Coun Rebecca Charlwood, member for Health, Well-being and Adults said: “It has long been recognised that the school holidays, with the extra pressures they put on already struggling families, can be an incredibly difficult time.

“We support this in principle if properly funded by national Government so that even the largest local authorities with significant levels of child poverty could afford to meet the demand.”