Shropshire Council to provide free school meals over Christmas but not half term

Shropshire Council has taken the decision to provide free school meals to all eligible children over the Christmas break, but is not doing so this week.

With schools closed and a national furore over the government's decision not to provide free school meals during half-term, Shropshire Council has faced calls to step into the breach.

Neighbouring Telford & Wrekin Council has provided food for children eligible for free school meals – helping more than 1,000 children yesterday.

Shropshire Council said it will help the "most vulnerable" children during half-term and no families will go hungry, but it is not providing blanket support for all those eligible for free school meals, understood to be more than 4,000 pupils.

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Councillor Ed Potter, the authority's portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “I am pleased to confirm that as a cabinet we have taken the decision to ensure that all children in Shropshire who are in receipt of free school meals will receive the help they need throughout the entire Christmas holiday period.

“We have been reacting to a fast-moving situation this week to ensure that everybody in the county who needs help during this October half term will also be able to get the assistance they need.

“Our staff are working hard to ensure the most vulnerable children in the county will receive food parcels. Delivery of these parcels begins today.

“We have also been working closely with food banks in the county to ensure they are fully stocked and anybody who needs help this week will be able to get it.

“This is a challenging time and we have come together as a council to put a robust plan in place that will ensure nobody needs to go hungry.

“More details will be announced around our Christmas scheme in the coming days.”

The issue has come into the national focus for the second time this year as a result of campaigning from Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Earlier this year his actions persuaded the government to provide food vouchers for those on free school meals while schools were closed during lockdown.

But the footballer’s requests for government to provide support out of term time have been rejected. More than 900,000 people have now signed a petition calling on the government to change its mind.

Labour criticism

Shropshire Council has been criticised for not stepping in and providing the support over half term.

Councillor Alan Mosley, leader of the Labour group on Shropshire Council, said the lack of support was disappointing and would be letting down thousands of struggling families.

He said: "As far as I am concerned councils throughout the country have taken this responsibility on themselves irrespective of politics.

"There are significant number of vulnerable children and families in Shropshire that the council, in this horrendously difficult times, ought to be providing with all the help they can."

Councillor Mosley contrasted the decision with that of Telford & Wrekin Council.

He said: "Our neighbours in Telford are currently doing the right thing, Shropshire is failing our vulnerable families.

"This is something other councils are providing and have planned for. It is unfortunate that Shropshire has not been willing to step in and help vulnerable families and particularly their children.

"It is extremely disappointing."

Food provided in Telford

Telford & Wrekin Council provided food to 1,120 children on the first day of the half term.

Councillor Shaun Davies, Labour leader of the authority, said: “Clearly what this demonstrates is that where the government won’t act, we as a council will.

“This means over 1,000 children, today alone, have accessed support that without the council and its partners, they would not have been able to. We understand that number will go up as people become more aware of the project.”

Councillor Davies also called on the government to provide specific ring-fenced funding to allow councils to pay for the service in future.

He said: “We need money from the government. Despite what the government says this is not funded by government and the council is really cash-strapped at the moment as a result of the pressures of the virus.”

Meanwhile businesses across the region have stepped up to provide food for vulnerable youngsters throughout half-term.

Food banks, football clubs, churches, restaurants, cafes, fish and chip shops, and schools, have all been part of the response, making sure children do not go hungry while their school is shut.

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