By KLTV Newsdesk
Kirklees Council announced that it will fund free school meals during the summer holidays for thousands of children and young people.
The council’s announcement came after central government initially insisted it would not fund the scheme after schools break up next month.
However, the government have since changed their stance after a successful campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to have the scheme extended.
Even with the extension, the council says it is now set to step in and prevent children across the district from going hungry.
Cllr Shabir Pandor, Leader of the Council, said: “Around 15,000 of our children and young people are eligible for free school meals. We will not let them down.
“We will do everything we can to keep them fit, fed and healthy.”
The councillor added that supporting the most vulnerable families in Kirklees is the council’s absolute priority.
He added: “I am making a personal pledge to do everything we can to support children this summer.
“Hunger can cause serious long-term harm, not only to physical health but to mental wellbeing and future life chances.
“We want all our children to enjoy the best possible support so that they stay well and achieve their potential.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools closed in March to the majority of pupils.
Since then, families whose children usually receive free school meals have been entitled to food parcels or vouchers worth £15 per week per child.
The council is looking at the most effective ways to introduce a similar voucher scheme to replace the national system.
Cllr Pandor continued: “Healthy holidays are so important for all children but even more so this year. That’s why we are providing help to our communities in a vast number of ways.
“Preventing hunger is critical to this support.
Cllr Pandor emphasised that the school meals scheme is a “lifeline” which “cannot be allowed to disappear when the holiday period starts in July.”
“The end of a school term does not signal an end to hunger or disadvantage. We will step in to deliver the scheme and make a fundamental difference in people’s lives.”
Cllr Carole Pattison, the Cabinet member for Learning, Aspiration and Communities, said: “It is a basic truth that nobody should be left without food. Children need a healthy, balanced diet if they are to stay well and achieve the best outcomes.
“Paying food bills is incredibly tough for thousands of families and they will not be left to fend for themselves during the summer.
“School holidays can be hard at the best of times, so we will also provide other ways to keep children engaged and healthy.”
Cllr Pattison extended a special thanks to schools across Kirklees for the work in helping deliver the school meals system during the lockdown.
She said: “Many [schools] have gone way beyond the call of duty. I want to say a heartfelt thank you for everything they continue to do.”