Good news for 15,000 West Sussex pupils as government u-turns on free school meals

The Conservative government of Boris Johnson has again bowed to pressure from Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford (and thousands of individuals who signed petitions and wrote to MPs) and pledged to provide free school meals this Christmas, next Easter and the summer holidays to eligible children.

Councils will run a £170m winter grant scheme, with at least 80 per cent earmarked to support with food and bills.  Councils will receive funding from the beginning of December until the end of March.

In addition a holiday food and activities programme will be expanded with a £220m investment to cover Easter, summer and Christmas in 2021.

Horsham MP Jeremy Quin voted against a motion that would have extended free school meal vouchers into the October half term holiday.

The number of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals has risen steady for the last three years nationally and in West Sussex. Some 11,500 pupils (9.9%) across all schools in West Sussex were eligible for free school meals in January 2020, an increase from 8.6% in 2019, and 7.4% in 2018*.

Worse yet this bleak picture predates the current COVID-19 pandemic. West Sussex County Council has processed 6,000 new applications for Free School Meals since January, indicating that the number of children now eligible for FSMs may now be as high as 15,000. 

The Liberal Democrats nationally continue to call for free school meals for every pupil whose parents or guardians are in receipt of Universal Credit and food vouchers for every one of those pupils in every school holiday and during any period of lockdown.

Last month Horsham Liberal Democrats called on Horsham District Council to support the provision of free school meals.

West Sussex County Councillor Morwen Milson said: “We welcome the government’s latest u-turn. But it’s a shame it came too late to help children over the October half term and that once again Horsham’s own MP, Jeremy Quin, along with the majority of his West Sussex Conservative MP colleagues, voted down the measure when it came to the House of Commons.

“We must also pay tribute to local community generosity which helped to fill the gap in October, such as the Southwater Country Park Café which offered free packed lunches 'for children of anyone who is struggling at this terrible time, absolutely free.'

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