Socialist Worker

Parents slam Tories over free school meals - ‘They don’t care about our kids’

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2728

Protesting in London last Saturday over the Tories refusal to give free school meals to children during the holidays

Protesting in London last Saturday over the Tories' refusal to give free school meals to children during the holidays (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Fury is growing over the Tories’ refusal to extend free school meals (FSM) in England during the holidays.

Tory MPs have said extending free school meals “increases dependency” on the state and claimed the cost could contribute to “destroying the currency”.

And they have resisted repeating the food vouchers scheme despite an outcry on social media and on the streets.

Their moves to make children go hungry shows up the Tories’ cruelty.

Sarah Cornwall is a mother from Chesterfield who relies on FSM to help feed her daughter.

She told Socialist Worker, “Having the vouchers in the summer made a big, big difference to my family.

"It took a massive worry off us. The Tories don’t understand what it is like to struggle to feed your kids.”

Protests have been taking place at Tory MPs’ offices.

On Monday in Matlock, Derbyshire, activists protested after their Tory MP Sarah Dines tweeted she was “proud” to have voted against feeding children over Christmas.

And a protest in Eckington in North East Derbyshire took place on Tuesday over their MP Lee Rowley’s vote.

Charlie Johnson is a mother who lives in the area and relies on FSM. She told Socialist Worker, “Getting the vouchers in the summer was really helpful. It made all the difference to me. I am really angry. They were forced to bail us out in the summer but now they’ve just forgotten us.

"We need a big fight to get meals back for Christmas.”

Protesting in Eckington

Protesting in Eckington


South London parent Helima relies on free school meals. “My kids are on half term now and I think the government is useless,” she told Socialist Worker.

“None of the things they say or do make sense.

“Free school meals over the summer were a lifeline for a lot of families who wouldn’t have been able to feed their kids and make ends meet during the pandemic.

“Benefits are already minimal, and so many people who need support are on precarious contracts or have lost jobs.”

A parliamentary motion from Labour last week would have provided 1.4 million children in England with £15-a-week food vouchers during holidays until Easter next year. But 322 Tory MPs voted against it, and it was defeated.

About 1.3 million children claimed FSM in 2019—about 15 percent of state-educated pupils. A further 900,000 children have applied for FSM since the start of the pandemic.

Vouchers

When schools closed during lockdown, families were issued with vouchers. This continued after campaigners called for the Tories to feed children during the summer with a “Covid food fund”. But the support will not be extended.

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said FSM were “only ever intended to support eligible pupils attending school during termtime”.

The Tories claim that they fed children during the pandemic—but Covid-19 has not gone away.

Health secretary Matt Hancock claimed the ­government has provided “a huge amount of extra investment”.

It has made minor changes such as raising Universal Credit by £20 and adjusting housing benefit.

But even these are due to be removed.

The Tories have given councils £63 million to help with hardship funds. But this is supposed to cover a wide range of needs, such as heating for poorer people.

And councils have suffered massive cuts for years.

“Southwark council has said it would help provide FSM and we will get our £15 voucher,” Helima said.

“Why isn’t the government doing more to help everyone? It feels like they don’t care about our kids.”

The Tories are fighting class war on families in need.

It’s time to give them class war back.

Helima is a pseudonym

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