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Labour bids to tackle ‘holiday hunger’ as local foodbank use soars


Green Street Foodbank, Morecambe
Green Street Foodbank, Morecambe
John Freeman

A Labour Party motion backing a parliamentary bid to tackle ‘holiday hunger’ among children – as well as a rise of more than 80 per cent in the use of foodbanks in Lancaster - has been passed by Lancaster City Council.

The motion supports the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill - a Private Members’ Bill by Labour MP Frank Field, backed by some high profile Tory MPs, which aims to place a legal duty on councils to ensure that families entitled to free school meals during term time can also access free meals and activities during school holidays. This would be funded by earmarking 10p from every pound raised from the new sugar tax on soft drinks.

The Bill was sponsored by Preston MP Mark Hendrick and has attracted some cross-party support in Westminster, with 14 Conservative MPs among the signatories. Despite this, only a handful of local Tory city councillors joined Labour and Green councillors in supporting the motion – sparking stinging criticism.

Offering advice on the motion, council officers said the Lancaster Citizens Advice Bureau had reported that local foodbanks had experienced an increase of more than 80 per cent in requests for food parcels over the last year.

The motion, submitted by Labour councillors John Reynolds, Tracy Brown, Margaret Pattison, Claire Cozler, Darren Clifford, Carla Brayshaw and Robert Redfern, cited the findings of a National Union of Teachers survey.

It found that as many as four in five staff had reported a rise in cases of children arriving at school hungry over the past two years.  More than a third said pupils were returning after the school holidays showing signs of malnutrition.

At last night’s full council meeting, a majority of city councillors agreed to ask council Chief Executive Susan Parsonage to write to Lancaster and Fleetwood Labour MP Cat Smith and Morecambe and Lunesdale Conservative MP David Morris to explain the council’s support and urge them to persuade the Government to make the Bill law.

Ms Parsonage will also write to Mr Hendrick to thank him for sponsoring the Bill, as well as to all council Leaders across Lancashire, asking them to back the Bill and to write to their own local MPs to call on them to support it.

“Holiday hunger is a stain on our nation’s reputation and it is a scandal that any children in one of the richest countries on earth are going to school hungry," says Coun Reynolds.

“I don’t understand how any councillor would not want to tackle this and we thought it was disgraceful that most Tory councillors refused to support the motion.

“Maybe they are embarrassed that this terrible situation is getting worse because of Tory Government policies like the clumsy roll-out of Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax, and the benefits freeze which affects many families, including those in low-paid work.That is why the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise by more than a million to 5.2 million over the next few years.

“This change in the law would only be a sticking plaster until the reasons for this awful situation are tackled at source and damaging Government policies are reversed.

“But at least in the meantime it would help to ensure that children in the Lancaster district and beyond do not go hungry during the school holidays.”

The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons in January.

Given that Morecambe MP David Morris was reprimanded by the Speaker of the House for jeering when foodbanks use was raised earlier this week, we hope he won't be as disrespectful of the concerns being raised by local councillors and other organisations.