Lib Dems force Conservative County to step up their support  for vulnerable families and commit to extend funding for free school meals up to Summer half-term next year

November 18, 2020 9:20 AM
Originally published by Hertfordshire Liberal Democrats

Child enjoying a free school mealAn Extraordinary meeting of Herts County Council held this morning (Tuesday 17th November) agreed to provide support to vulnerable families and children receiving free school meals through the school holidays up to the end of the Summer half-term next year. In so doing, the Council recognised the growing seriousness of child poverty in society.

The meeting had been called because, at its earlier October meeting, the Conservatives had rejected a Lib Dem motion on Free School Meals supporting Marcus Rashford's appeal to the government so leaving doubts as to what the administration would do, if anything, to step up to fill the gap left by the Conservative Government's COVID Winter Support scheme which stops on March 31st.

Lib Dem Group leader County Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst, who proposed the motion said, "In the period April to June 100,000 people used food banks for the first time, a year on year increase of 61%. The reduction of the furloughing scheme and massive redundancies have forced low income families to the brink, resulting in an expected 36% increase in children in food poverty. No civilised society should accept child poverty. Recent successive governments have rightly worked hard to tackle pensioner poverty and now we must address this as Henry Dimbleby, the government Food Tsar, has laid out in his food strategy document."

Stephen continued, "I welcome the government's U turn with its extra £170m, providing £2.49M for Hertfordshire, but it should not have needed a U turn. They should have followed the lead of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments who supported their young children during the October half-term. However the Conservatives in England refused to do so and left it to businesses, charities and some smaller councils to help out as best they could."

Although the Lib Dem motion, which received Labour support, was voted down, a near identical motion was passed by the Conservatives (details below) that gave a commitment to carry on support during school holidays up to the end of the Summer half term holidays.

Under pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the County Council also agreed to a special combined meeting of its Children, Young People's and Education Panels on November 26th to discuss and scrutinise the details of the support for children and vulnerable families as to the need for free school meals. The Executive Member for Children's Services also committed to establish a dedicated scrutiny topic group to look into the need for free school meals.

Councillor Mark Watkin, Lib Dem spokesperson for Children's Services and Education welcomed these moves that, until the meeting, the Conservatives had not agreed to. "It's crucial that such a major commitment should be subject to the proper scrutiny processes to ensure everyone who needs help and support in these difficult times is covered now and into the future.

I am proud of what we have achieved today in forcing a clear commitment from the Conservatives at County Hall to support our vulnerable children, something they failed to do at the October meeting.

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst who was attacked by the Tories for forcing the extra meeting said, " No meeting is a waste of time, especially when so many of the Conservatives present spoke. This meeting showed that child poverty is now, as Marcus Rashford and Henry Dimbleby and others have highlighted, a critical policy area that this and future governments must now address. Today's meeting made the ruling Conservatives do something about it. Without this meeting being called I doubt that this would have occurred. This meeting has brought this area into the public's mind and rightly so."