#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 28th October 2020

No child should go hungry over Christmas. That’s why, despite MPs voting to discontinue free school meals over the holiday, Crawley Borough Council will be stepping in to put a local scheme in place.

Crawley has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other part of the country. The government’s decision to ignore the example of almost every other major economic power by denying support to the British aviation industry, means for the first time in Crawley’s history we face large numbers of families desperately struggling to make ends meet this Christmas. Now is not the time to make things harder for them.

On the back-foot, some MPs now allege that the government has given councils money to provide food over the holidays. There is no truth to that claim. Funding has only been made available to help councils close budget deficits caused by the government’s COVID restrictions. Yet, even with the most recent funding announcement, Crawley BC’s deficit remains at £1m and guidance issued by government previously stated hardship funding should not be used to duplicate the free school meals holiday scheme.

All the energy which is being spent spinning and pointing the finger would be better used doing something about the problem. Free school meals in Crawley have always been the responsibility of West Sussex County Council, our local education authority, but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is getting children fed. We’re having to start from scratch and we have no legal access to the data on who is eligible, but these challenges will be overcome.

We will be kicking off a crowdfunding initiative this week, with the council looking to match-fund donations. The money raised will be used to buy supermarket vouchers, which local schools can then issue to eligible families. This approach is financially achievable and it avoids all the data protection problems around reaching eligible families. Most importantly it will mean Crawley’s children get fed this Christmas. Now isn’t the time for political games, local representatives either need to get on board with the council’s local scheme, or get out of the way.

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