BARNSLEY businesses came together this week in order to feed hungry children during the half-term break after Parliament - including one of the borough’s MPs - voted against providing free school meal vouchers to more than 8,500 of the town’s kids.
The mass movement - which saw scores pledge their support and provide free meals - comes after Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates was the only Barnsley MP to vote against the motion tabled by the Labour Party last week.
It called on the government to provide vouchers to struggling families. Ms Cates was one of 318 Conservative MPs that vetoed the bid spearheaded by Manchester United and England footballer, Marcus Rashford, after a successful campaign during the summer.
The MP said the supermarket food vouchers were initially proposed as no more than a ‘temporary solution’ to the issue.
However, businesses including Tankersley Manor, Stairfoot Subway, The Snug Eating House in Grimethorpe, Kiddy Winx at Pot House Hamlet and care home Highstone Mews in Worsbrough - to name a few - pledged to provide free meals throughout half term.
Barnsley Council also joined multiple local authorities across the country in rallying against the government, providing £15 per child to eligible families.
Julie Taylor, one of the owners of Bridge End Fisheries, in Penistone, told the Chronicle she felt ‘let down’ by the government’s decision.
“I can’t believe the state of the country at the minute - I feel let down by the government and my local MP who I feel has let the children of Penistone down,” she added. “It shouldn’t be left to us residents to pick up the pieces, but because of this decision we knew we had to help in any way we could.
“We’re in a fortunate position, but some others aren’t as lucky.
“It’s more important now than ever that we all come together.
“I hope that we have made the half-term a little bit easier for families who rely on free school meal vouchers.”
Kieron Campbell, manager at the Barnsley Football Club-backed Reds in the Community scheme, vowed to give packed lunches to children who may go hungry.
“We want to help out in any way we can and we want to make sure children don’t go hungry during the holidays,” he said.
“We provided sandwiches to anyone who contacted us as part of our ongoing role to provide for the reds community. We don’t want children to have to pay for other people’s decisions.”
Leanne Bramley, manager at BARiSTA coffee shop, Penistone, provided children with a free sandwich to help them to overcome hunger throughout the holidays.
“We believe that no child should go hungry and that it’s our time to pull together to help combat this problem,” she said.
“We were shocked by the government announcement and we want to ensure that no child will go to bed with empty bellies.”
Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said town hall bosses wanted to guarantee that children, parents and carers who need additional support over the week-long holiday were given it, ‘independent of any national decisions’.
He said: “We’ve already seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has really hit families affected by financial hardship.
“Going into tier three, the ‘very high’ category last weekend, placed further restrictions on people’s lives and livelihoods, making it even harder for people who are struggling to support their children.
“We did not want to see children who receive free school meals go hungry over half-term so a payment of £15 - the same amount as free school meal funding - was made per child to eligible families.
“This supported approximately 8,700 children across the borough at a cost of £130,000 if all those eligible claim the funding.”
The cost of the proposal for the remainder of the school year would have been the equivalent of just one week of the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock, whose constituency is one of the worst-off in the borough, added: “At a time of real hardship for families across Barnsley, the least this government could do is support our most vulnerable and ensure that no child goes hungry during this pandemic.
“It is utterly shameful that they have ignored and condemned thousands of families to poverty and hunger in these incredibly challenging times.
‘At a time when they are throwing over £12bn at their failing private Test and Trace system, which has this week shown its worst-ever performance, I strongly urge the government to reconsider their priorities.”
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Community spirit shines as kids are fed in half-term break
Author: Emma Shepherd
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