Brent councillor criticises Government over half-term meals

A senior Brent councillor accused the Government of passing the buck after it announced schools would not be expected to provide free meals over February half-term.

Cllr Tom Stephens, who is responsible for education at Brent Council, said it was unfair to suggest local authorities should manage the service over this period using funding provided last year.

Guidance from the Department for Education stated schools do not need to provide free school meals or vouchers over half-term, pointing out there is wider support available outside of term time through the Covid winter grant scheme.

But Cllr Stephens believes it would be more appropriate to support families in need through regular payments.

He said: “Once again the Government is abdicating its responsibility to support vulnerable children over the school holidays, leaving it to councils and local communities to step up to make up for their failures.

“We urgently need a national scheme to provide cash payments for free school meals, both during term time and at school holidays.

“The current proposals are an appalling insult to vulnerable families, both in Brent and across the country.

“We should empower families to support their children through direct cash support during the pandemic, rather than demean them with food parcels.”

Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially insisted free school meals would cease over the winter holidays.

However, following strong opposition, led by footballer Marcus Rashford, he announced the £170 winter grant scheme in a high-profile U-turn.

The latest concerns held by Cllr Stephens follow on from the wider debate around food parcels being handed out to vulnerable families.

It comes after pictures emerged of “inadequate” food parcels provided by government contractor Chartwells.

Ministers branded the packages “unacceptable” and, following further intervention, another U-turn means families will now receive £15 vouchers for food during term time as lockdown continues.

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