Cordelia Law, Torbay Council Cabinet member for children’s services, writes for the Torbay Weekly:
So here we are again! Our most deprived children, young people and their families being let down again by this Government, not to mention being sorely abused by uninformed and judgemental opinions on social media.
Let’s just get one thing straight and in perspective... the Department for Work and Pensions, estimated that 4.6m children in Great Britain live in relative poverty.
However, fewer than two million pupils across Great Britain (England 1.4m), are eligible for free school meals.
What does that statistic tell us? It tells us that only the poorest of those children in poverty are entitled to free school meals. I will just let that sink in... only the poorest of children in poverty get free school meals during term time!
What does this mean for Torbay?
In Torbay 30 per cent of children are deemed to live in poverty and prior to the pandemic, there were 3,963 children aged four to 16 who were eligible for FSM.
When our children went back to school in September, that number had risen to 5,114 and is still rising.
That is an alarming 29 per cent increase in the poorest children in Torbay needing help with food, children whose families have lost income, jobs and security, families that have slipped further down the heartrending path of poverty through no fault of their own during the pandemic.
It is true that we have not provided food for children during the school holidays in the past.
It is also true that our economy and welfare state have not been impacted by a pandemic in the past.
For several years food charities like the Trussell Trust have been warning about the ever-rising reliance on food banks, including by working people.
During the pandemic our local food charities have come together and done amazing work, but the fact that they existed at all, is an indications of the levels of local food poverty.
Torbay has some of the most deprived wards in the country and hence our food banks, so you would hope that our two MPs would understand the poverty and suffering in their wards.
I had hoped it would make them more inclined to support the recent vote to continue feeding the poorest children during the holidays while we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
Sadly, they didn’t! The vote failed with the majority of Conservative MPs voting against feeding children during the holidays.
To show that he does care about families living in poverty in his constituency, Kevin Foster took the opportunity to visit a free school uniform bank in Ellacombe, one of his more deprived wards, and had a photo taken of him smiling at the rows of uniforms available for the children of families struggling and in poverty.
I have no idea what he hoped to achieve with this photo opportunity, however suggestions certainly filled my inbox!
Luckily, given the hitherto lack of forethought, consideration and planning shown towards our children and young people throughout the pandemic, we were not content to wait for the Government to come to a decision about school meals and we began planning for half-term in September with our schools, Torbay Food Alliance and FACT, as well as other charities that have received a share of the £183K grant.
Hopefully, no child or their family will go hungry during term time or school holidays thanks to the fantastic partnership working between our voluntary and community organisations and Torbay Council.
If you know anyone who is struggling with food poverty, whether they are working, retired, homeless, unemployed, with or without children, please get in contact with the Torbay Food Alliance www.torbayfoodalliance.org