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FROM the red wall of the north to the scudding skies of East Anglia and points south and west, poorer pupils will not receive free meals during school holidays this half-term.
In July, Marcus Rashford forced the Prime Minister into a humiliating U-turn, which delivered the free meals throughout the long summer holidays. Not so in harsher October.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson insisted it would not be repeated, despite the spread of tougher restrictions across England as coronavirus infections surge, insisting: “We are in a different position now.”
Meanwhile, some children in my local area in Norwich were totally dependent on their local authority-provided Aldi meal deal voucher.
So the Norfolk against Holiday Hunger (NAHH) campaign seeks to provide a model of trade union solidarity in the face of government indifference.
The NAHH organising group was established by Norfolk NEU and Norfolk Unite Community and later additionally bankrolled by Norwich RMT and Norwich Trades Council.
NAHH recognises the ongoing importance of the all-but-abandoned Every Child Matters agenda.
Every Child Matters was the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, at least partly in response to the death of Victoria Climbie, and it is one of the most important policy initiatives ever introduced in relation to children and children’s services.
It led in the short- to medium-term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families policy, leading to the Children Act 2004.
The NAHH campaign, established in the wake of the inspired intervention of its “patron saint” Marcus Rashford, has twin aims:
• Expand the entitlement to free school meals to include all children from low-income families (households earning less than 60 per cent of the median income) and children of families who have no recourse to public funds.
• Extend the current scheme to include all school and half-term holidays.
A large part of the campaign is built around an open letter to Norfolk MPs.
A further aim of the campaign is to promote similar projects to NAHH based on union co-operation in other parts of the country.
The Covid crisis has exposed the many inequalities of our current economic and political system.
People working in low-paid professions, those living in poorer areas and those from ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
But as The King’s Fund director Sally Warren states: “The scandal is not that the virus has disproportionally affected certain groups, but that it has taken a global pandemic to shine a light on deeply entrenched health inequalities.”
A government social outcomes report estimates that of the 4.6 million children who live in poverty only 1.3 million receive free school meals.
That means 3.3 million children who do not receive free school meals could potentially be going hungry.
By 2022 it is predicted 5.2 million children will be living in poverty.
In Norfolk of the 24,825 children living in low-income households only 13,953 receive free school meals, leaving 10,872 children potentially going hungry during school time.
Financial pressures on families due to high rents and the cost of living could mean nearly 25,000 children are going hungry during the school holidays.
A study published in SAGE Journals in May 2018 indicates food insecurity during school holidays can lead to a child’s learning stagnating or even declining, as well as affecting health and well-being.
Never mind Norfolk, though. It seems though that Boris Johnson and the Tories still can’t find it in themselves to forgive even their new-found friends up and down the red wall for being poor.
Ian Duckett is a Norwich-based educator, member of national executive committee of Socialist Educational Association and EC member of Norfolk NEU.
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