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Stratford MP backs U-turn on free school meals extension

The plates protest in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson
The plates protest in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson

After the government axed the free school meals scheme – which saw extra provision through lockdown and school holidays – it was met with a barrage of criticism and protest.

Further outrage was caused when the Conservatives voted against a Labour motion in the House of Commons to continue to provide free school meals to pupils in need in the run up to Christmas.

Doing an about face, the government has now at last promised to continue with the scheme.

The U-turn was backed by Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi, who told the Herald this week: "I welcome the measures announced over the weekend, including £170 million in grants for local councils, £220 million for the expansion of local holiday activities and food programmes, and £16 million for food charities. Warwickshire County Council continued free school meal provision over the recent half-term holiday and will also be doing so over Christmas, so this additional funding will further strengthen its ability to do that.”

Mr Zahawi’s support is in contrast to his earlier stance, when he thought enough provision had already been given to families on low incomes through Universal Credit.

Prior to the announcement of the extension Stratford restaurants, including Huffkins and Bardias, had offered free meals to families in need; while Churches Together had worked with Stratford Foodbank to provide shopping.

Close-up of the plates left by the Parker family
Close-up of the plates left by the Parker family

Protestors gathered outside the Stratford Conservatives Constituency Office in Old Town earlier in the month to highlight the issue of child food poverty by placing plates plastered with poignant messages on its doorstep.

The peaceful protest attracted support from around 50 people of varying ages and political persuasions who turned up at staggered times to lay their plates.

Speaking of her reason for laying her plate writer and artist Sophie Clausen told the Herald: “It’s appalling to try and ignore the issue of child poverty in this country, especially as the situation is getting worse. To want to deny that is so shocking I can’t even comprehend it.”

John McDermott, Secretary of Stratford Labour Party, spoke of the need to maintain the momentum of the free school meals campaign championed by footballer Marcus Rashford. He said: “We all have a responsibility to stand up for a cause which is terribly important, we have to keep battling.”

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