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Southwark Labour are joining forces with Mark Rashford in his campaign for government to end holiday hunger.

30 October 2020

“Do I feed a hungry child?” may be a question for Chancellor Rishi Sunak but it's a no-brainer for us, and many other councils across the country. 

Millions are burning with anger at the Tories’ refusal to help feed hungry kids. And no wonder. It is a disgrace that Tory MPs voted against continuing free school meals and many Tory councillors feel deeply ashamed of their government.

A dramatic 24 hours followed, starting with a 7:30am email from back bencher Councillor Victoria Mills telling us where we could find money to fund free schools meals over half-term, followed by a lot of back-and-forth with London councils by me and our Finance lead Councillor Rebecca Lury. 

My counterpart in Islington – their Deputy Leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz - had already started rallying children’s leads across the city. But we were all in the same boat – thanks to the Tory government we’re all still reeling from austerity with councils losing 60p in the pound since 2010. Combine that with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP’s broken promise to cover the cost of COVID-19, and local government has been landed with a £6bn shortfall.  Even when you make the decision to find the money, you fear you’ll have to cut services from elsewhere. 

As the clock ticked there was another spanner in the works. Getting vouchers to families with real difficulties making ends meet was not yet a guarantee.  Schools have been the fourth emergency service throughout this pandemic – and some councils said their schools were so exhausted that they couldn’t imagine getting a scheme in place on time.  After all this was the night before the last day of term.

In Southwark the council’s Leader, Finance lead, strategic director and I could see that there were 10, 500 children many in danger of holiday hunger. At 7:30pm our Education team started writing to schools telling them that we would pay for free school meals over the holiday.  We needn’t have worried about our schools – they know how much many of our families need this help and were only too happy to work late to administer the change.

Now many more local authorities were following suit in London: at the time of writing that’s 21 out of 33 London Boroughs. Mark Rashford was cheering every council who joined his campaign on, name-checking each of our councils as we came on board to join his inspirational campaign to #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY.  One commentator joked that he was using his feed to build his own country. 

As the bell in our schools rang for the last time until after the holidays, the media including the BBC, the Mirror, the Times - as well as Southwark Council’s Leader on Channel 4 News - told the nation the story of Tory holiday hunger. Millions rallied to Mark Rashford’s campaign to feed hungry children over Christmas. 
There are many lessons to learn from all this. If you’re a backbench councillor with a good idea – tell your leaders and we’ll help you to deliver it!  Councils are stronger together but sometimes you just have to get on with it. And we need Mark Rashford’s campaign to succeed before the Christmas holidays. 

Why? Because Councils have no money and contrary to what MP Ben Bradley would have you believe, families in need are not feckless, they’re parents who have lost their jobs in this recession fuelled pandemic, they’re parents that suddenly find themselves on 2/3 of the minimum wage, they’re parents waiting five weeks for their universal credit. We must make sure that their children are not punished!


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