Kent County Council has announced vouchers for food are available during half-term for families whose children are eligible for free school meals, so that no Kent child goes hungry.
The county’s families most in need will receive supermarket vouchers for each eligible child to ensure they are able to feed their children outside of term time.
A dedicated helpline has been set up and is now open so that Kent’s low-income families are able to quickly and easily access the help they need when they need it most, including during the school holidays. Families who apply will receive one voucher of £15 per child.
The announcement comes after KCC Leader Roger Gough pledged that no child should ever go hungry during school holidays, or at any time.
‘A step further’
Speaking after today’s announcement, Mr Gough said: “Kent County Council and our partners in district and borough councils have already helped thousands of Kent residents, including families with school-aged children, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the weekend, with the half-term holiday approaching, I reminded residents about the help the Kent Together helpline and webpage offer and urged anyone who was struggling to contact us.
“We have now taken that offer of help a step further, setting up a dedicated helpline families can call to apply for vouchers for Free School Meals to be used in a local supermarket during the school holidays. This dedicated helpline will streamline and speed up the process so we can get urgent help to those that need it.
“This support for families in need has always been in place. I hope, though, that this helpline will enable people who need urgent help to get it, and to get it quickly.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we support the most vulnerable within our community. I hope that this service will quickly provide families with the help they need and ensure that no child in Kent is left to go hungry.”
Labour County Councillor for Margate, Barry Lewis, welcomed the news, saying: “I am delighted at this belated news that KCC is filling the void of the government policy not to give free school meals during the holidays. This is something I have been raising awareness of for the last three years through the work with Sharon Goodyer and the Summer Kitchen scheme. I am delighted other people have now come onboard and see the need to help struggling families outside of term time.”
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt as written to Cllr Gough to ask that KCC joins a cross-party appeal for government to rethink its policy.
He said: “Thanet District Council has particular concerns about this matter. As you know, we have the highest number of pupils receiving free school meals of any Kent district, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of all pupils. Based on the January roll there are 4,612 pupils affected in Thanet or 22.7% of the total. However, we both know that there will be many more families in need now as a result of Covid-19.
“The situation is acute in Thanet because of these numbers, but I would not argue that we are a special case, because a hungry child is still hungry wherever they live and whether or not their neighbour is also hungry. We need a national solution across England.
“I have been heartened by the community response here in Thanet. We have seen businesses, schools, community groups, volunteers and Ramsgate football club all rallying round to support local children. However, we should never have been in this position.
“Although the promotion of the Kent Together helpline and the potential for applications for a Kent Emergency Grant is welcome it is not an adequate response, because the point of the free school meals provision is that it does not rely on people seeking individual help. Vouchers already provide a mechanism that addresses this problem which the government is choosing not to use.
“This is not a party issue. I understand that Conservative-controlled Medway Council is providing food and vouchers, and that the former Conservative MP for South Thanet, Laura Sandys, is among those urging the government to reverse its position.
“Whatever has been possible this week, we will face a similar problem at Christmas and into 2021 so a long-term solution is required. It should be morally unacceptable to all of us that children are left hungry at any time. The sums of money involved are significant to local government, but they are small in terms of the amount committed nationally to support the economy.
“On behalf of Thanet District Council I am urging the government to rethink its position and I hope Kent County Council will also join the cross-party appeal for the government to fund a national scheme in time for Christmas. Nobody should be under any illusion that this issue will go away without that.”
A community effort
The county council joins a host of Thanet businesses and schools who have pledged to make sure isle children are fed in reaction to the vote in Parliament last week which rejected extending the free school meals scheme into the school holidays.
Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay voted against the extension and MP Sir Roger Gale did not vote.
The failure of the motion, which was prompted by footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign, caused fury in Thanet and across the country.
Anyone eligible for free school meals who needs extra financial support to help feed their children can now visit www.kent.gov.uk/freeschoolmeals or call the dedicated helpline on 03000 41 24 24. You have until next Monday, November 2, 5pm, to apply.
Meanwhile, the KentTogether helpline remains open for any other Kent resident who needs support with food, collection of medication and prescriptions and other urgent needs during the pandemic, 24 hours a day. You can get help by visiting www.kent.gov.uk/kenttogether or calling 03000 41 92 92.