Preventing holiday hunger is more important than ever

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney, explains how Hackney Council has put pressure on the Government to deliver free school meals for children during the Easter holidays.

With more than 4,000 children on free school meals in Hackney, preventing holiday hunger over the Easter break has been more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s why it was shocking that the Government had no plans to ensure that eligible pupils received a nutritious meal during the school holidays – despite many families self-isolating or being unable to leave their home at the moment.

Together with Mayor Philip Glanville, I wrote to ministers earlier this month to demand clarity about what provision would be put in place – as well as asking the Government to expand where free school meal vouchers could be spent, supporting local businesses as well as supermarkets.

Frustratingly, they waited until the first day of the Easter break to announce that they would allow children to receive a free school meal during the holiday through this voucher scheme – putting significant pressure on schools to deliver a new service outside of term time. While we welcome the change of heart, this late announcement left many families in the lurch.

In Hackney, we’ve always worked with local food charities and organisations to ensure vulnerable families get support during the school holidays, including provision of vouchers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

I’m proud that our teachers and school staff have stepped up to help families get access to what they need – whether ensuring vouchers go out by text or email, or actually distributing hot meals themselves. More than 30 of our schools, 58 Early Years settings and 37 childminders have remained open during the holidays for children of key workers and vulnerable families. While our heroic NHS workers are rightly winning national plaudits, we should not forget that teachers and school staff are also playing their part on a different front line to ensure that our health and other critical systems keep working.

Although schools won’t open back up as normal after the holidays next week, I know that our incredible staff will continue to deliver a vital service in the coming weeks and months. 

The latest information is available on the Hackney Learning Trust’s website, and if you or anyone you know needs additional support during the current crisis, we are here for you. Visit our website for all the details about our financial, practical and emotional support, and to sign up for regular email updates.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care