‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.'
This is part of the preamble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats and the reason so many of us were angry this week when MPs at Westminster voted not to offer free school meals to vulnerable children during the school holidays.
Andrew Vanrey, Lib Dem candidate for Brislington West, said, ‘As a recipient of free school meals when I was younger, I know what a difference it made to my mum, who was struggling to raise three kids on her own’. Jos added, ‘It’s truly shocking that in the 21st century, we still have millions of children living in food poverty’.
Following the reckless vote in Parliament, the Bristol Liberal Democrats wrote to Mayor Marvin Rees imploring him to explore the possibility of Bristol City Council paying for free school meals for poorer families instead.
'Both Crispins Fish & Chips and The Loddeka have pledged to support those eligible for free school meals. Thank you'
Many local councils around the country have already stepped forward to stop child holiday hunger by funding free school meals themselves, including Kensington & Chelsea, Wigan, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Redbridge, Southwark, Rochdale, Royal Greenwich, Portsmouth and many more. Bristol has 10,835 school children who are eligible for free school meals. We want to stop them from going hungry over the holidays and if the government refuses to uphold its moral obligation to feed hungry children, the Bristol Lib Dems believe the duty falls to the Council.
Cllr. Tim Kent, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Education and Councillor for Hengrove & Whitchurch Park wrote;
“Dear Mayor Rees,
I am sure you share my disappointment in the Government and their voting down of the reasonable proposal that children entitled to free school meals should continue to receive a free school meal over the holidays during the pandemic. We are all aware of the issue of child poverty, including food poverty, and although food poverty amongst children is unfortunately not new the pandemic has made the crisis much worse.
It is an absolute travesty for children to go hungry, on any day of the year. The absence of any support equivalent to free school meals in the holidays is a long overlooked anomaly, and now families face the threat of future lockdowns too. The government spent £100M’s on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August - which many people took advantage of. But the far lower cost of feeding our most vulnerable has been shirked.
I know some local councils are considering stepping in. We have over 10,000 children who receive free school meals in our city - we should not let them be punished by a Government more interested in political fights rather than doing the right thing.
I note that this policy of expanding free school meals over the holidays is supported by the Child Food Poverty Task Force, supported by Marcus Rashford and many leading food suppliers and producers.
Can I ask you to urgently consider stepping in and pledging that Bristol City Council will provide these free meals (or vouchers) over the holidays if the Government will not?
I hope you will consider this matter urgently and demonstrate to the Government what compassionate leadership looks like.