Today’s blog comes from Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet member for Education and Skills.
For many children, yesterday was the first day of the two-week Easter break. We know that when the school holidays come around, the issue of holiday hunger becomes particularly serious for many of our city’s families. Parents of children are left struggling to afford the food they need to buy.
Around 1.3 million children in England qualify for free school meals and in Bristol over 14,000 of our children qualify. For many, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day. In some cases, it is their only meal.
The work already being done by Feeding Bristol and its partner organisations during holiday periods demonstrates just how vital the supply of food is to ensure children have access to nutritious and balanced meals – even during the holidays.
In recent weeks we’ve seen the rapid closure of schools and social distancing measures being put in place to manage the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The UK Government also set up a national scheme that provides weekly shopping vouchers to allow families to continue to access meals while they stay at home – which was quickly rolled out across Bristol last week.
In these unprecedented times, our schools continue to operate throughout the holidays, providing childcare for those who require it, including our key workers who are keeping vital services going. Coupled with this, many families are facing huge economic uncertainty and are unable to easily access basic food supplies.
Despite this huge need, the Government made a last minute decision to not fund any of the meal vouchers over the Easter break.
The Mayor, along with the leaders of Leeds and Birmingham councils, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education last week, urging him to rapidly reverse this decision and give our schools and families the help they needed.
Over the weekend came welcome news that the Government had reversed its decision, and confirmed that the voucher scheme would continue to be supported over the Easter holidays. This provides schools across Bristol with the vital financial support required and I’m glad the calls of city leaders were heard.
However, this has been the latest in a series of late decision-making, leaving schools and families with new issues to deal with at an already unsettled time. Yet again, school leaders have responded with speed, compassion and professionalism to support their pupils and families.
At this time of crisis, I would urge the Government to do all they can to support the most vulnerable in our society, and keep the impact on our young people at the forefront of decision-making.