Oldham facing half-term school hunger crisis

Date published: 14 October 2020

New analysis by LGA Labour reveals that more than 9,000 children in Oldham face half term with increased lockdown restrictions, yet without free school meals.

The current lockdown restrictions, in addition to high unemployment and the millions on furlough, will make things even harder for struggling parents as sectors such as leisure and hospitality are forced to remain closed or operate with a skeleton staff.

In the summer, Government agreed to provide free school meals to children throughout the holidays, yet ministers have refused to commit to providing free school meals this forthcoming half term.

Cllr Arooj Shah and Cllr Shaid Mushtaq, Oldham Council’s Cabinet Members for Covid Recovery and Education respectively, are calling on the government to protect all 1.4million children through half term – and demand that Tory MPs in the so-called ‘red wall’ insist that they do.

The new analysis reveals:

9,544 children in Oldham are currently on free school meals

Of the 1.44m currently on free school meals in England, 456,738 (32%) face a half term with increased lockdown restrictions but without free school meals

Government has warned that lockdown restrictions could be extended in coming days – creating more uncertainty for families across the country – so this figure could well rise further

Two thirds of people in the North East of England are living under increased restrictions – 78,000 children on free school meals and under lockdown restrictions in that region alone

More than 200,000 children in the North West face that double whammy, 95,000 in the West Midlands and 67,000 in Yorkshire and Humber

Providing free school meals for 1.44m children across half term would cost just £22m – less than half the cost of the Government’s wasted £50m ferry contracts

Publishing the figures Cllr Shah said: “Children in Oldham have had a really rough year – this incompetent government should be supporting them, not leaving them to go hungry.

“We can all feel how much the new lockdown restriction are affecting our lives – and that’s making it much harder for families to earn a living and put food on the table.

"It is utterly ridiculous that at a time when we should all be pulling together this government is leaving local parents to fend for themselves."

Cllr Shaid Mushtaq added: “Ministers have been too slow at every stage during this crisis.

"So instead of waiting to the last minute they should act now and keep free school meals going through half-term – they should stand by local families just like we have stood with the rest of the country in fighting this terrible disease.

“It’s time for the Conservatives to put this community first – they can’t claim to be a Government for Oldham if Oldham children go hungry this half-term.”

The analysis follows a range of dire statistics and research revealing just how hard things are for struggling families:

Child Poverty Action Group research which reveals coronavirus has left low-income families struggling with a significant deterioration in living standards

Eight in 10 hard-up families said they were financially worse off as a result of the pandemic

Parents worry about not meeting children’s needs - “I feel like a bad parent at the minute”

48% have a new or worse debt problem

46% have taken on extra caring responsibilities

Latest figures reveal almost 10% of the workforce is still furloughed, and 1.4 million are unemployed

GDP has fallen more than 10% since the start of the crisis

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