This week we saw the government vote against extending free school meals into the school holidays for children from the highest poverty families across the UK.

As a country, since March, many families have faced hardship with the loss of jobs as we went into a national lockdown. One of the main worries for many low income families was how to feed their children. Not only had family income been reduced, often drastically, but access to free meals at school stopped as schools were closed due to the Covid crisis. For many children living across the Tees, this would have been their only meal of the day.

In June of this year Manchester United and England International footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned and wrote an open letter to the UK government calling on them to end UK child poverty. The government announced a change in policy regarding the extension of free school meals for children during the summer holidays. This act was seen by many child poverty charities and campaigners as progress in ending child poverty in the UK. Rashford began further campaigning for the extension of the free school meals programme into the school holidays through food vouchers to be given to the lowest income families within the UK. He started a petition that received over 200,000 signatures on the first day.

As we saw this week, this was then debated in parliament and MPs voted on the bill. Over 322 MPs voted against the bill to only 261 in favour of free school meals being given to children during school holidays. It is believed over 1.3 million children in the UK are eligible for free school meals. This bill will affect many families in the UK and across our own area the Tees, yet three local MPs voted against the bill.

The question many struggling families will be asking across Teesside is why would any Teesside MP vote against children in their own constituencies be giving a free meal during half term. Are these MPs even aware of child poverty within the Tees area?

In the Tees area, studies suggest that more than 140,000 are income deprived with more than one in four children in the area living in child poverty. (Source)

It is believed that more than 30,000 children living across the Tees are living in some level of child poverty. (Source)

The Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) for the Tees area says in a recent report that between 2016/17 over 2,227 food vouchers were given out to people living in Middlesbrough, and of those over 716 were households where children lived. (Source)

It was found in Middlesbrough that child poverty had risen from over 27% in the six years, and in Middlesbrough is one of the areas in the UK hit by a sharp rise in child poverty. total over 42% of children living in Middlesbrough were living some in type of child poverty. Many of those children through this summer received the free school meals scheme.

In other parts of the Tees there has been a steady growth in child poverty figures over the past five years. In Stockton South it had risen from 14% to 18% over a four year period. In Redcar the rate of child poverty has risen from 18% in 2014 to 24% in 2019.

Local Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald voted in favour of the extension of free school meals to be given during half term. Middlesbrough South MP Simon Clark on Wednesday voted against the bill. Redcar’s MP Jacob Young and Matt Vickers MP of Stockton South also voted against the bill.

What many people across Teesside will be wanting to know is why three local Tees MPs voted against the bill, which would help lower the numbers and combat the problem of child poverty suffered across Teesside.

Local charity The White Feather Project who are based in Middlesbrough at St Alphonso’s Church Hall in North Ormesby helps local low income families who are struggling by providing them with food parcels. The charity was set up due to the Covid crisis. We spoke to them and asked about child poverty in the Teesside and how the government’s decision will impact the area.

A spokesperson says, “By the Government stopping free school meals there are vast amounts of children in our area going without food or without a meal. This is something The White Feather Project wants to put a stop to, by making sure every child matters and providing a meal during half term for children in deprivation.
“We are community shop which helps over a hundred people every week with food and care packs along with over 400 children meals too being given out weekly at the church.”

After the announcement of the government’s decision not to extend the free school meal scheme and the impact this will have on many families across the Tees, it’s a clear picture that child poverty isn’t going anyway soon. With many families struggling due to the Covid crisis and loss of jobs, an area like Teesside is going to suffer further. How will the local authorities across the area respond?

How is it in a country like the UK in 2020 children can be going without a proper meal?

Article by Chloe Tempestoso


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