Emergency Free School Meal demand: Newcastle's Liberal Democrats Opposition calls on City Council to put its money where the mouths are
Newcastle's Liberal Democrats Opposition is calling on Newcastle City Council to "step up to the plate" in support of England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford's End Child Food Poverty campaign by implementing an emergency "free school meal voucher" for the imminent half term holiday, after it emerged that there has been a 97.55% increase in free school meal school take up in the City in the last year. The Liberal Democrats are calling for an emergency response from the Council and the City, and say there is no good reason why the Council cannot divert £175,000 for this purpose.
Yesterday, the Labour Council's Cabinet Member for children, Paula Holland, warned the Government's failure to extend the FSM voucher scheme which operated over the summer risked leaving 13,123 children on the city on free school meals at risk of holiday hunger at a time when many low-income families are under financial pressure due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis on jobs.
Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Nick Cott, said:
"There is growing public outcry in support of Marcus Rashford's campaign and Labour are understandably attacking North East Tory MPs who declined to vote for Labour's call in Parliament yesterday because they didn't want to support something with a Labour label on it.
"We think the same argument applies to Newcastle. We know that the Council has this week confirmed that senior council managers will receive pay rises of up to £5,000. If it can find the money for big pay rises, it ought to put its money where the mouths are on child food poverty. The Council's Cabinet could take prompt action on this today, as North Tyneside have done."
Assistant shadow cabinet member for education, Cllr Christine Morrissey, said:
"We don't think this is "Rash", we think it's "Affordable". Our estimates show it would cost around £175,000 to fund a free school meal voucher for the week for 13,123 children, but the cost to the Council could be less than that if city businesses, charities, and individual citizens step up to the plate by making a donation of cash or meals.
"It is hugely disappointing that the Government isn't acting. If a national FSM voucher scheme was handed to private sector providers like its friends at Serco they would no doubt be happy to throw millions of pounds in its direction. But if we can't rely on the Tory Government to step in, it's not clear whether we can rely on the council to step up. We urge the Labour council leadership to act swiftly on this and not to simply reject the idea because it's coming from the Liberal Democrats opposition."