£2million to ‘do the right thing’ and help hungry children in Devon after government U-turn

A major operation utilising £2million in government cash is under way in Devon to help hungry children during the Christmas holidays.

The county council is set to lead the bid to organise networks of providers  to support vulnerable youngsters and their families, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

Leader John Hart told the authority’s November cabinet meeting: “We are going to receive just over £2million from the Government and we now have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Now a range of community kitchens, holiday clubs, charities and local businesses will be enlisted to coordinate aid and support for those who need it the most in every district in Devon.

They will ensure that every child entitled to free school meals will be able to get help over the Christmas holidays, during the Easter half-term and the Easter holidays.

Councillor Hart added: “This pandemic has been so cruel to so many people. We are aiming to support those families who were suddenly left without money, without a job and without savings as a result of coronavirus.

“This partnership of local organisations tailoring support to the local needs of their communities coupled with the Devon-wide organisation of the county council seems a really good way forward.

“I believe it will be an effective and practical way of combating holiday hunger and I want to thank all of the groups that will be working with us.”

Cabinet member for communities Councillor Roger Croad added: “We need to act quickly to ensure that no child goes hungry this Christmas.

“We envisage that in most areas there will be a range of solutions and options that are geared to meet the needs of their individual communities.

“These are likely to include holiday clubs providing food, cooking sessions, community meals, offers from local cafes and businesses and community larders.

“Our top priority is to ensure those in receipt of free school meals have enough to eat over the holidays. But we also want to help and support people with wider vulnerabilities.”

The latest statistics show that 14,774 children in Devon are registered for free school meals – 15 per cent of the total pupil population.

Thirteen per cent of pupils in East Devon are eligible, while the number in Exeter is 17 per cent.

A government U-turn on providing free school meals over the holidays to the poorest children – a cause long-championed by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford –  has been welcomed by Devon’s head of education.

Last week Whitehall announced a winter grant scheme programme of £400million to provide support with food and bills, with a holiday food and activities programme to be expanded.

Speaking to Devon County Council’s (DCC’) Children’s Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, Dawn Stabb, the authority’s head of education, said that, if properly implemented, this should be a significant step in the right direction.

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