Boris Johnson eyes more 'holiday clubs' as alternative to extending free school meals

Jon Stone
·2 min read
The prime minister is looking for a way out of the free school meals row (AP)
The prime minister is looking for a way out of the free school meals row (AP)

The government is looking at setting up more "holiday clubs" across the UK to make sure children are fed over the school break, a minister has said.

The Holiday Activity and Food programme is currently being run as a pilot in 17 local authority areas, but could be extended to more of the country.

It is the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby, the Government's food tsar and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain.

Mr Dimbleby said the problem of children from low-income families missing out on free school meals was genuine, and that his approach could help solve it.

"This problem is real, it should go without saying it's serious, it's immediate and it's going to get worse as employment gets worse and the Government isn't doing enough," he said.

"One in seven families already are reporting not be able to afford enough food."

Reports overnight suggested that Boris Johnson is considering rolling out the scheme on a wider basis, as a way of defusing the free school meals row without an official U-turn.

But the plan would come too late for the half term holidays and could only be implemented in time for Christmas.

Speaking to the same programme, business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Government was learning lessons from the pilot projects.

"Let's come together and look at this and see what we're doing currently; the additional help for families on Universal Credit is making a difference as well," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But, ultimately, we want to make sure - as the Prime Minister said - no child goes without a meal at Christmas and, by the way, a healthy meal."

But others have said the approach would not work. Dr Robert Winston, a Labour peer and expert on child development told Newsnight he had read the report "from cover to cover" and added: "It doesn't remotely cover the problem."

The government has also highlighted a £20 a week increase in Universal Credit that was unveiled during the pandemic. The increase is set to expire; asked whether it could be extended, minister Mr Zahawi said he could not pre-empt "fiscal" announcements by the chancellor.

Read more

PM says councils can feed children from fund which has already run out