Cllr Rick Everitt, Leader of Thanet District Council has written to Cllr Roger Gough, the Leader of Kent County Council on the matter of children in Thanet who receive free school meals:
Thank you for forwarding me a copy of your media release addressing the risk of children going hungry during the October half-term which was issued on Saturday.
You will not be surprised that Thanet District Council has particular concerns about this matter. As you know, we have the highest number of pupils receiving free school meals of any Kent district, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of all pupils. Based on the January roll there are 4,612 pupils affected in Thanet or 22.7% of the total. However, we both know that there will be many more families in need now as a result of Covid-19.
The situation is acute in Thanet because of these numbers, but I would not argue that we are a special case, because a hungry child is still hungry wherever they live and whether or not their neighbour is also hungry. We need a national solution across England.
I have been heartened by the community response here in Thanet. We have seen businesses, schools, community groups, volunteers and Ramsgate football club all rallying round to support local children. However, we should never have been in this position.
Although the promotion of the Kent Together helpline and the potential for applications for a Kent Emergency Grant is welcome it is not an adequate response, because the point of the free school meals provision is that it does not rely on people seeking individual help. Vouchers already provide a mechanism that addresses this problem which the government is choosing not to use.
This is not a party issue. I understand that Conservative-controlled Medway Council is providing food and vouchers, and that the former Conservative MP for South Thanet, Laura Sandys, is among those urging the government to reverse its position.
Whatever has been possible this week, we will face a similar problem at Christmas and into 2021 so a long-term solution is required. It should be morally unacceptable to all of us that children are left hungry at any time.
The sums of money involved are significant to local government, but they are small in terms of the amount committed nationally to support the economy.
On behalf of Thanet District Council I am urging the government to rethink its position and I hope you will ensure that Kent County Council will also join the cross-party appeal for the government to fund a national scheme in time for Christmas.
Nobody should be under any illusion that this issue will go away without that.
Cllr Rick Everitt
Leader, Thanet District Council