Extend free school meals to prevent 'harrowing' Christmas for families, says Archbishop

(Photo: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Durham are calling on the Government to expand free school meals over the school holidays as a growing number of families face hardship due to the pandemic. 

Archbishop Justin Welby and Bishop Paul Butler, writing in TES today, highlight the "harrowing" prospect of thousands of families falling into destitution by Christmas. 

The Church leaders say that free school meals should be available to all children in families on universal credit and that the scheme should cover holiday provision. 

They also want to see funding in place to help schools that are supporting poorer families through services like breakfast clubs. 

"All schools must have the appropriate resources to be able to address issues of child hunger and poverty and expand their role as places of security for children who are at risk, whilst maintaining safety at school," they write.

"This includes the expansion of free school meals to every child whose family is on universal credit, and the expansion of holiday provision to all children on free school meals.

"A Nature Premium would also be a valuable development. Outdoor play, exercise and access to nature are vital to healthy learning. Helping schools ensure outside activities continue will aid mental as well as physical health." 

They go on to say that funding must be "generous enough" so that schools can recruit, train and oversee enough staff and volunteers to help run the services. 

In addition to providing meals, they said schools also needed funding to provide extra educational support and tuition for children who may have fallen behind during the pandemic. 

"This can't just be plucked out of thin air; schools and their staff are already at their limits when it comes to time and funding," the Church leaders added.

"Our teachers are doing their best for us, and we need to do our best for them."

The Trussell Trust recently warned that it is bracing for a 61% increase in demand for emergency food handouts in the run-up to Christmas. 

It predicts that 670,000 people will become destitute by the end of the year, and that 46,000 food parcels will be needed to help people struggling to feed themselves. 

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: "Communities throughout the country have shown enormous resilience in helping more people than ever before. But food banks and other community charities cannot continue to pick up the pieces. None of us should need a charity's help to put food on the table."