To Cllr Barry Wood – Leader of Cherwell District Council
Open letter from the progressive Oxfordshire Group (sent via email)
Dear Cllr Wood
As you will be aware, the Progressive Oxfordshire group has expressed concern over the amount of support that is being offered to vulnerable and disadvantaged children during the school holidays and beyond, particularly with regard to access to at least one good meal a day.
The recent media attention around free school meals and meal vouchers has highlighted the problem that we still live in a society where over a million children will go to bed hungry every night. This has a knock-on effect on parents and other carers, with many of them going hungry themselves so that the children in their care can eat.
We were saddened to see that the government recently voted down a proposal to provide free school meals to children throughout the half term holidays. I'm sure that you are aware that this has caused a national outcry and the government is under considerable pressure to change their position. In the meantime, many local councils at all levels have stepped into the breach to support needy children at this very difficult time.
When we wrote to you and the Chief Executive earlier this week asking what steps Cherwell had taken in this regard, the response was somewhat underwhelming. You reported that children were being offered snacks in a car park and that some were being given food bags to take home to prepare meals.
Whilst both of these initiatives are no doubt well intentioned and helpful in some ways, we feel that they do not adequately address the problem of ensuring that all children have at least one substantial hot meal a day. For example the provision of a food bag may not be helpful to families who are struggling to pay for electricity or gas to heat or prepare food, especially those in temporary accommodation, those who have lost their jobs, or others who may be on reduced salaries as a result of the pandemic.
The most direct solution to all these concerns would be the provision of food vouchers to families that have been identified by the council as vulnerable. This would also negate the problem where many families have to apply for support when they may not even know it's available. This is particularly acute with the increase in school children being told to isolate from school after being exposed to the virus.
We would therefore ask if any remaining funding that is available from the government's COVID-19 grant to the council could be directed towards this problem, and perhaps some of our reserves could also be allocated towards a fund for this purpose.
We ask that Cherwell take a stand like other councils and demand aid for the most vulnerable students during the holidays and when the children are forced by government guidance to stay away from their free school meal.
We request that you write to the government in the strongest terms, expressing the council's frustration at not being able to do more, and asking for greater financial support to deal with this issue now and in the future as the second wave of COVID makes the problem much worse.
Cllr Katherine Tyson – Liberal Democrats
Cllr John Broad - Independent
Cllr Conrad Copeland – Liberal Democrats
Cllr Nick Cotter - Independent
Cllr Ian Middleton – Green Party