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Guy Fawkes Lockdown: ‘We need cash for Christmas holiday school meals’ Tower Hamlets mayor warns

PUBLISHED: 15:00 04 November 2020

First Love foodbank co-founder Aerold Bentley leaving food outside entrance of flats in Poplar during first lockdown. 

Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas

First Love foodbank co-founder Aerold Bentley leaving food outside entrance of flats in Poplar during first lockdown. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Government restrictions in the face of the national Covid lockdown starting on Guy Fawkes Day tomorrow, November 5, are undermining efforts to tackle poverty in London’s deprived East End.

Mayor John Biggs... Mayor John Biggs... "School meals fiasco shows families have been left to sink or swim!" Picture: Mike Brooke

That’s the warning by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets who fears local authorities can’t pick up the tab indefinitely for “filling in the cracks” over free school meals and supporting emergency foodbanks.

The council is having to dip into its coffers for school meals with a £3 million tab this year alone.

“The school meals fiasco and failure to set out a long-term support shows families have been left to sink or swim,” John Biggs said in a statement today to the East London Advertiser.

“The approach to supporting people and businesses through this difficult time has been to lurch from one short-term plan to another, adding uncertainty and making a bad situation worse.”

Aerold Bentley delivering emergency food supplies in Poplar during lockdown in April 2020. 

Picture: Daniel Leal-OlivasAerold Bentley delivering emergency food supplies in Poplar during lockdown in April 2020. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas

He is calling on Downing Street to U-turn on school meals over the Christmas holidays.

“The vote in the Commons against free meals over the half-term was shameful,” he insists. “But it’s not too late to make sure they continue over Christmas.”

New figures from the Trussell Trust which runs emergency foodbanks show soaring numbers of families being forced to use them.

Latest forecast is a 61 per cent rise in food parcels needed for the last quarter of 2020 leading up to Christmas, equal to six emergency food parcels given out across the nation every minute this winter.

Volunteers stacking supplies at First Love foodbank in Poplar. Picture: First LoveVolunteers stacking supplies at First Love foodbank in Poplar. Picture: First Love

The council’s member for social inclusion, Mufeedah Bustin, said: “The stark warning from the Trussell Trust shows just how difficult this winter is going to be. We need proper funds to tackle poverty and the government to set out a longer-term plan to have certainty.”

The council’s work tackling poverty has been undermined by austerity cuts to its budget, but the authority is still providing free meals to 6,800 primary schoolchildren with the bill hitting £3m this year. This goes well beyond the national scheme where only “eligible” children on the breadline are entitled.

The cabinet member for children and schools, Danny Hassell, said: “Our children were let down by the vote against free school meals—they deserve better. The new national lockdown will be difficult for some of the worst affected who need as much support as possible.”

The lockdown starting Guy Fawkes Day was announced last Saturday just hours before the furlough scheme covering lost wages was due to go up in smoke, before being extended, which the mayor said had left families and businesses with uncertainty in the East End.


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