Voices of the Future: Leeds City Council’s approach to free school meals is a contrast to Government’s lack of compassion

In this week’s column, Maeve Schaffer advocates for councils to oversee the logistical planning of free school meals to ensure children are well fed.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 6:00 am
Who should be responsible for school meals - central government or local authorities? Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

in a succession of embarrassing U-turns, the Government has once again had to backtrack, this time due to the furious backlash from their privatised Free School Meals. The disgraceful images that emerged from Chartwell’s Free School Meal packages struck a chord with a large portion of society, begging the question of the Government’s capacity to care for the families that are particularly in need.

In Leeds City Council, however, there was a different approach. Rather than the measly packages boasting half a tomato that Chartwells decided was appropriate to offer families for a week, Leeds City Council’s own catering service provided ample food for the 34,000 children eligible for the Free School Meal Scheme in the city.

The pandemic has only exasperated the hardships many families who qualify for this help face, and with each lockdown comes rising unemployment and financial hardships, causing me to question where the Government’s compassion is.

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The stark difference between both meal packages offers a grim reminder of the Government’s failings for those who have struggled the most throughout the pandemic.

The Government seems to be so critically out of touch in relation to what the public needs most, with most ministers having voted against the continuation of Free School Meals over school holidays in October. It should, instead, be the councils that provide for those families during this time, as they have no vested interests in pleasing Conservative party donors and pandering to their friend’s private companies.

Their only interest is the wellbeing of their communities and the children within them.

Just as the Government failed to ensure equality in education by delaying any provision of laptops or WiFi for under-privileged children once lockdown was announced, they have also failed to ensure a basic human right to food for those who are without.

By devolving decisions to local councils, one should hope to see an approach which helps those must at need with a sense of community spirit at the forefront of their actions.

If we as a country are to get through this third lockdown without further setbacks, it will be through no fault of the Government’s privatisation, but rather through the efforts of the community hubs within our cities and councils, whose aims ensure children are well fed.

Despite news that the Government would not extend their Free School Meals over the February half term, Leeds City Council’s Jonathon Pryor assured locals that the council would still be providing “either food or vouchers for all free school meal children” during this time.

This is proof that where the government is lacking in compassion, councils are strong, tirelessly delivering free school meals to their communities rather than relying on the Government’s calamitous outsourcing.