Amid all of the political comment on the issue of food for disadvantaged families John has welcomed the Government announcement of the Winter Support Package which puts in place plans that have been coming forward over recent months, including the extension of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme.
John said: “The policy announcement over the weekend about supporting disadvantaged families this winter and beyond is not about Free School Meals or vouchers. The package was being discussed at the time of the Free School Meals debate and included the food programme which had already been trialled. It is just one element of proposals to help families that are struggling and builds on proven methods. The Government has not done a U-turn as some are claiming.”
The Holiday Activities and Food Programme scheme was piloted across 17 local authorities over the summer. It was originated by Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of Leon Restaurants and the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Henry is lead non-executive board member at Defra and has been involved in policy-making regarding school food strategies since 2013, when he was invited by the Government to write a report on school meals. In July 2020, the National Food Strategy Part One was published, which Dimbleby led. The extension of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme was one of the key recommendations of the National Food Strategy. By investing £220 million into this scheme the Government is acting on a recommendation from a report which they commissioned.
The proposals move beyond meal vouchers and will provide much needed help to families. In the debate in the House Paul Maynard MP said “We need a national and universal summer holiday activity and food support stream to deal with the trials that have occurred. This would avoid any of the stigmatisation that I see in my constituency around eligibility for free school meals.”
John added: “This is a scheme that the Government have been working on recently and it is shameful that Labour tried to hijack it by concentrating on vouchers and by trying to turn the debate into an emotional discussion about allowing disadvantaged children to go hungry. Vouchers are not the best means of dealing with the problems of providing meals to those in need and I do no regret voting against that approach."
The details of the Winter Support Package are as follows:
- A Covid Winter Grant Scheme of £170 million builds on the £63 million already provided to Councils and will be managed by them. It covers much more than food and includes household bills and essentials.
- Extending the Holiday Activities and Food Programme until Christmas 2021. by investing up to £220 million – more than existing funding allocated to the programme. This will mean all children eligible for Free School Meals will have the option to join a holiday-time programme that provides fun activities with healthy food during the summer, Christmas and Easter holidays. To be eligible, children have to join a holiday-time programme. It’s about engaging children in positive activities and social support via holiday clubs rather than just giving them vouchers
- Boosting the existing Healthy Start payments from £3.10 to £4.25 from April 2021
- A pledge additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities
Combined with providing the extra support that has been made available through the welfare system including support with housing costs, providing mortgage holidays and support with council tax bills, and by keeping taxes low, we are ensuring that children and their parents are better off.
This is about more targeted and personal support for those most in need, delivered through Councils. It is many times more generous than Free School Meals. It gives support to families and engages children in positive activities.