The Diocese of Westminster has warned the Government that more must be done in order to prevent child poverty in the UK reaching record levels.
The call came as Caritas Westminster, the social action agency of the diocese, welcomed the Government’s announcement that it will extend its free school meal voucher scheme to cover the summer holidays following a successful campaign by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.
Caritas Westminster, together with its partners in the Caritas Social Action Network, had been calling for this change and had recently written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, asking him to extend the scheme over the summer.
“Unfortunately, holiday hunger is not a new problem,” said Anna Gavurin, co-ordinator of Caritas Food Collective at Caritas Westminster. “Caritas Westminster has been working to address holiday hunger over the last year, by helping parishes and schools to set up their own holiday food provision programmes. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the need is only going to get worse, as many parents lose work and budgets are stretched with children at home all day.”
Many parishes in the Diocese of Westminster have shared examples of the challenging situations families are facing with Caritas Westminster and the agency has launched its own voucher scheme – Caritas Emergency Supermarket Voucher Scheme – to help meet this need, with the scheme already providing food for thousands of people.
“In the last few weeks, we have seen many schools setting up their own food banks and food parcel delivery schemes to support families who are struggling. Even with free school meal vouchers available, schools are seeing a level of need so great that they have been forced to provide direct food relief themselves,” said Ms Gavurin.
“As the Government furlough scheme comes to an end and unemployment is expected to rise, we expect to see many more needing food relief and other forms of support. Therefore, whilst we welcome the Government’s U-turn on Free School Meals over the summer, we encourage them to recognise that there is more needed to prevent child poverty in this country reaching record levels.
“Caritas Westminster, and parishes and schools in the Diocese of Westminster, will continue doing all we can to meet this need, and we hope the Government will do the same,” added Ms Gavurin.
In a stunning U-turn, Downing Street yesterday announced a £120 million Covid Summer Food Fund which will benefit some 1.3 million children in England over the six-week summer period.
The change of policy followed an open letter plea by Rashford urging the Government to help children, by reversing its decision not to award free school meals vouchers in England – for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible – outside of term time.
Picture: A pupil takes a meal tray as they respect social distancing. (Sebadelha Julie/ABACA/PA).