26th October 2020
Thank you for your reply to the questions we raised regarding the provision of Free School Meal vouchers to families in need of support across Kingston Borough.
We appreciate that, after a decade of austerity, local authorities are in a difficult financial situation and that the pressure put on Councils to help provide Free School Meal vouchers over the half term holiday is entirely of the Conservative government’s making.
We will continue to promote the information about how families can access support through Achieving for Children via our networks within the community and large local membership. We would also like to commend all of the local businesses and community organisations for stepping up to support families that need help at this very difficult time for the country.
However, it is essential that the Council administration acknowledges that your messaging is likely to have caused a great deal of confusion. On your website, the Kingston Liberal Democrats claimed that “no child will be left hungry this half-term after the Conservatives voted against providing Free School Meals during school holidays.”
In truth, it seems you have confirmed that not all children eligible for Free School Meals will be eligible for support from the Council this half-term.
It is clear that the Council has defined ‘vulnerable children’ as those in need of social care support. Whilst this is important, our concern is that this limited approach demonstrates an overall lack of understanding about the nature of child poverty and the types of family that are in need financial assistance.
The majority of children requiring Free School Meal vouchers are not all involved with social care services.
We believe there is still more that the Council can do to disseminate information to families about how they can receive support. It would be useful to the general public for the Council to explain how it is coordinating with the voluntary sector, local schools, and Achieving for Children to make true on your promise to prevent any children from going hungry over the holidays. In addition, we fully expect to see a more robust system put in place in time for the Christmas break.
Chair for Kingston & Surbiton Labour