Council extends free school meal vouchers in York to Christmas

Free food vouchers will be made available for vulnerable children in York during the Christmas holidays.
City of York Council announced it would provide food for more than 2,850 vulnerable children in half term – after the Government refused to back calls for the scheme to be extended.

Now councillors have voted to do the same over the Christmas break.

But three councillors – Conservatives Paul Doughty and Martin Rowley and independent Mark Warters – abstained from the vote because they wanted the vouchers to be paid for by a pay rise granted to councillors last December, a move which was refused.

Labour councillor Bob Webb called for the £15-a-week food vouchers to be extended to the Christmas break, saying: “The holidays are meant to be a time when children enjoy themselves, relax and even, dare I say it, do their homework. But if you are worried about where your next meal is coming from, then quite frankly you’re not going to enjoy yourself.”

“A parent who chooses to eat less so that their kids don’t go hungry is an absolute hero in my eyes, but this is sadly all too common.”

He said hunger leads to poor concentration, mental health problems and stunted growth.

He added: “The devastating impact that Covid has now had on those families that were already treading water, only just managing to stay afloat, cannot be overstated. “Last week the Labour party, a premier league footballer and hundreds of thousands of people across the country all asked the Conservative Government to do the right thing and support hungry children during the school holidays. “No, they responded. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Lib Dem councillor Tony Fisher supported the calls, saying: “One MP tweeted it was the responsibility of parents to feed their children but many are not able to and the reasons are often beyond the parents control.
“Redundancy, ill health, relationship breakdowns, business failures – but whatever the cause should we penalise their children? Of course not – it’s the mark of a civilised society to care for each other.”

He went on to say “I accept fully the exchequer is facing unprecedented demands for money from all sorts of directions but I simply don’t understand why they draw the red line at feeding hungry kids in the holidays.
We should also recognise the generosity of York’s residents and businesses who have made enormous contributions to food banks charities, seeing record donations and countless businesses coming forward to offer meals to the most vulnerable.”

Cllr Paul Doughty

Cllr Doughty said councillors should have “put their money where their mouth is” and covered the cost by sacrificing their own pay increases.

Basic pay for councillors is currently £10,371 a year – with extra cash for councillors with extra roles such as committee chairs and leadership roles.

Cllr Doughty, speaking after the meeting, said: “I would be the first to admit the Government has been on the back foot with the narrative in the media. There is never a debate on whether children should go hungry and the fact is they have been funding free school meals. It didn’t support an opposition motion calling for it to do what it was already doing, which has allowed a narrative to build of not providing support and is a total own goal in my opinion.”

He said the Conservative Group in York were pleased to support the motion amendment proposed by Cllr Warters, seconded by his group colleague Cllr Rowley, which, he says, puts the ball back in the court of the Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens by recommending that councillors cover the cost of free school meals for the remainder of the pandemic by rolling back on the pay increases they awarded themselves at the start of the administration.

He added “Unfortunately, they didn’t have the gumption to put their money where their mouth is rather than put the additional financial burden on the York council taxpayer?”