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Justin Welby urges government to expand free school meals and avoid 'harrowing' Christmas

by Will Maule

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Durham have urged the government to extend free school meals in a bid to help families avoid a Christmas marked by financial hardship. 

Archbishop Justin Welby and Bishop Paul Butler have called on the government to offer school meals to every child whose family is on universal credit, insisting that a failure to provide this could result in dire consequences. 

Leading food bank charity the Trussell Trust says that some 6,000 food parcels will need to be provided by their network to people in crisis between October and December 2020 – amounting to an increase of 61% on last year.

They anticipate that an additional 670,000 people will be destitute by the end of the year, something the senior clergy called "harrowing". 

The pair said it will was “vital for those most disadvantaged” that schools in their communities stay open, but that teachers “can only do so much on their own” and require appropriate funding to help tackle child hunger and poverty.

Welby and Butler — the latter of whom is Children's Advocate on behalf of the bishops of the CofE — praised teachers and clergy for going "above and beyond to support the people in their communities, many of them in places of serious deprivation".

"Their care for those they look after in the most difficult and stressful circumstances is inspiring and humbling," they added. 

Appealing directly to the government, Welby and Butler said: "All schools must have the appropriate resources to be able to address issues of child hunger and poverty and expand their role as places of security for children who are at risk, whilst maintaining safety at school.

“This includes the expansion of free school meals to every child whose family is on universal credit, and the expansion of holiday provision to all children on free school meals.

“A Nature Premium would also be a valuable development. Outdoor play, exercise and access to nature are vital to healthy learning. Helping schools ensure outside activities continue will aid mental as well as physical health.”

The Archbishop and Bishop added: “This can’t just be plucked out of thin air; schools and their staff are already at their limits when it comes to time and funding. Our teachers are doing their best for us, and we need to do our best for them.

“We call on the Government to make the necessary funding available to all schools; funding that is generous enough for all school sponsors of every sort to recruit enough oversight and train and oversee enough suitable volunteers to meet these basic needs; safety and feeding for all children and young people;extra educational support and tuition where that is required for pupils who have missed out.”

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