Nursing groups have joined forces to ask the Government to extend free school meals in England during the holidays and help families facing ‘heart-breaking’ poverty.
The letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, published last night, had signatories including RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair, QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman and Institute of Health Visiting chief executive Dr Cheryll Adams.
It urged the Government to ‘change course in its decision’ not to provide free school meals to children in England during the half-term holiday and Christmas. The umbrella-bodies called for an ‘immediate response’ to the ‘fact that children are going hungry’.
Westminster extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays this year and did the same for the summer holidays, after campaigning from Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, but has ruled out a further extension.
The letter continued: ‘Each and everyday nursing staff, midwives and health visitors see families having to make heart-breaking choices between heating their homes and feeding their families. This cannot be right in the sixth largest economy in the world and must be addressed.’
‘The effects of poor nutrition are well documented, and the impact is both immediate and long-term with long-term effects on educational attainment and health,’ it added.
Since the Government decided not to extend the scheme again, many local councils and businesses have supported Rashford’s free school meals initiative by helping to provide food for children.
The letter welcomed seeing local communities supporting those in need but stressed ‘this is not a sustainable solution to the problem’.
It concluded: ‘We pay tribute to the businesses, community groups, local authorities and Marcus Rashford MBE for their efforts to address the issues but we firmly believe that the Government must act to address child hunger and poverty.’
The letter was also signed by School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) chief executive Sharon White, and the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA)’s lead professional officer for health visiting Obi Amadi.
The Welsh Government has already decided to support free school meals during every school holiday until Easter 2021.