‘No child will go hungry on our watch’: Redbridge Council pledges free meals to disadvantaged children over half-term

After the government voted against a motion to help feed disadvantaged children during school holidays, Redbridge Council pledged to take the burden on itself and feed the 7,000 children who need it.

On Wednesday the government voted against providing 1.4m children across the country with food vouchers. The decision came less than two weeks after England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford was made an MBE for campaigning for the cause and advocating for a permanent solution.

More than 1,500 people across Redbridge signed Rashford’s child food poverty petition, which Ilford’s Labour MPs supported. Chingford and Woodford Green MP Iain Duncan Smith voted against.

Yesterday, Thursday, October 22, council leader Jas Athwal pledged to figure out a solution to provide meals to the almost 7,000 children across Redbridge who rely on free school lunches.

Cllr Athwal said: “No child deserves to go hungry. Where the government has stepped down, in Redbridge we are stepping up to make sure that local children are happy and healthy, not hungry.

“The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on local families, many are struggling financially and so as a council we want to do whatever we can to help.

“Making sure children get the food they need over the holidays is fundamentally the right thing to do and I’m proud to announce that no child will go hungry on our watch.”

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There was an outpouring of support from residents following the announcement with some people, such as Dr Mehdi Velsi and Dr Fahad Memon, pledging to feed 10 school children and others asking how they can help.

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said he was proud of the council for stepping in, despite its own funding pressures.

“Having grown up on free school meals myself, I know what a huge difference this will make.

“This is about priorities. The Tory government should be ashamed of themselves.”

Ilford South MP Sam Tarry said he commended the council’s efforts. He said: “The fact is they should never have been put in this position but were forced to act after the Tories voted against Labour’s motion to offer free school meals during every holiday up to and including Easter next year.”

The council has pledged to find a way to support these free meals at a time when it has a £45m “black hole” in its budget over services to deal with the pandemic.

The council ran a series of public meetings last month to ask residents what services they don’t want to see cut because of the budget shortfall.

Deputy leader Kam Rai said he was angered by the government’s response to food poverty and it forced the council to step in.

“The Tories have not given us a penny to support those on free school meals and in fact the latest settlement for Redbridge is pitiful but if they won’t provide food during half term while there is a crisis then we will.”

Cllr Linda Huggett, leader of Redbridge Conservatives, said: “In this unprecedented time, it is important extra measures are taken to support children and families most in need, which is why the government has increased Universal Credit by £1,000 for families this year.

“I welcome the £63m the government has provided to councils in England to support families who require assistance and that Redbridge Council have used this government funding to ensure children in need receive free meals during the holidays.”

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