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Thu, 9 April 2020

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If schools close we must ensure children on free school meals do not go hungry

If schools close we must ensure children on free school meals do not go hungry

With panic buying stripping supermarket shelves, donations to the foodbanks are probably going to decrease, says Caroline Harris MP. PA Images

4 min read

Parents with limited financial resources must not be burdened by the additional fear of trying to feed their family

Across the world, we are witnessing the drastic measures that authorities in different countries are, quite rightly, taking to control the spread of COVID-19.

The situation in the UK is being monitored by the government and experts, and over the coming days, weeks and months, we will see restrictions change as decisions are made that will prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the general public.

As I write this, schools in England and Wales remain open, but this could change. We have seen closures in many other countries as the number of confirmed cases starts to grow.

For many parents, school closures, will mean some disruption but for those who rely on free school meals to ensure their children have a hot dinner each day – this is an added concern during an already worrying time.

In Swansea East, lots of my constituents are in low income families. Making ends meet is a daily struggle and many would not manage without the lunchtime provision of food in schools. In the summer holidays, I have run a “kid’s lunch club” for the last three years to help those families who just do not have the money to fund the extra food when the children aren’t in school.

The current situation means that there is a very real possibility that schools will be forced to shut as the country attempts to contain and delay cases of COVID-19. This will mean that even families who can normally manage through the holidays will struggle for any additional days or weeks that children are at home.

For these families, their first response may normally be a trip to the foodbank, but the likelihood is that this already stretched resource will be struggling to meet demand. With panic buying stripping our supermarket shelves of essentials like toilet roll and soap and supplies of pasta, tinned goods, long-life milk and other non-perishable items running very low, donations to the foodbanks are in all probability going to decrease. Even those who can afford the extra to donate, may be put off by the limited availability if they need to fill their own cupboards as well.

So what is the answer?

How do we ensure that children aren’t going hungry if schools do have to close their doors for an extended period? How do we protect our constituents, who may be more susceptible to illness if they aren’t getting adequate nutrients?

I believe, as Parliamentarians, we should be doing everything we can – particularly through our social media outlets – to reassure our constituents, to share up-to-date professional advice and to encourage people to stay calm and to help others where they can – by donating to food banks if possible or by helping those in the community that are struggling.

We also need to reach out to local businesses that can offer help. Events will be cancelled, offices may shut down and bars and restaurants will potentially have excess food that can be shared. I will be asking local businesses in Swansea East to contact me if they are able to donate anything for those in need and will coordinate the distribution to families, the elderly and the housebound. It’s similar to what my office arranges every Christmas and it is a simple but effective way of ensuring that nobody is going hungry.

The current situation is unprecedented – none of us know how long this will last, how many will be affected or what adjustments we are going to have to make to protect ourselves and others. People will understandably be concerned. But we must ensure that parents with limited financial resources are not further burdened by the added fear of trying to feed their family if free school meals stop.

Read the most recent article written by Carolyn Harris MP - We need a blanket ban on gambling advertising in sport

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