More councils in England are offering food support for struggling families over the half-term holiday amid public discomfort over the government’s refusal to offer help and growing support for the footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign
At least 78 councils had announced by Sunday evening that they would be activating half-term food schemes, either by offering food vouchers or providing extra financial and logistical support to local food banks and charities.
The majority of councils offering help were Labour-run, including Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds and a number of London boroughs, with a small but growing number of Conservative-run councils breaking ranks over the issue.
Tory-run Staffordshire county council, which covers the education secretary Gavin Williamson’s South Staffordshire constituency, said it would provide half-term help to up to 18,000 children, joining Hillingdon – in Boris Johnson’s constituency – Medway, and Kensington & Chelsea, all Conservative-run.
Staffordshire’s cabinet member for children and young people, Mark Sutton, said: “We know that times are hard for many families at the moment, with increased pressures on household budgets, so we wanted to help those in greater need to ensure that children can get a decent meal through the holiday.”
However, a handful of Conservative-run councils said they would not be offering any help over half-term beyond any existing local safety net schemes either because they did not have the money or because it was not their role to provide food support.
Walsall council’s Tory leader, Mike Bird, said: “Unfortunately, I have to be the gatekeeper for Walsall council because we have not got the money … When you keep going to a well and taking water it will run dry.”
Jonathan Nunn, Tory leader of Northampton council, said: “We’ve considered it as a council but the costs would be prohibitive for the council to fund it… We don’t currently have a plan to lobby the government so that will probably stay as it is. We’re happy for others to step in and help those who need that help.”
Others appeared ideologically opposed to the council stepping in. Responding on Friday on Twitter to a resident who said it was shameful for the government to pay consultants £7,000 a day but not feed poor children, the Tory leader of Rushmoor council, David Clifford, replied: “The shame is the day government rather than parents feed their children – if I were in need I would go to our food bank – it works extremely well and not run by government.”
The issue appeared to be dividing municipal Conservatives: opposition councillors in Sutton urged the Liberal Democrat-controlled council to provide meals over half-term for children who received them at school, and the Conservative party branch in North Tyneside praising its local Labour-run council for taking similar action.
Conservative-run Hampshire county council said that although it oversaw schools and children’s services, responsibility for helping families in hardship over half-term was the responsibility of district councils in its area. Tory-run Kent also said it would not offer extra support.
Wandsworth, which is Conservative-controlled, was questioned by a local charity for restricting its half-term help package to children receiving social work support. Wandsworth food bank tweeted: “So far this scheme only helps children with a social worker. It doesn’t help all the 5,700+ Wandsworth children who receive free school meals.”