On 12th January 2021, Caritas Westminster and Diocese of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission issued the following joint statement addressing the provision of free school meal parcels during lockdown:
Like many others, Caritas Westminster and Diocese of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission have been shocked to see the photos of inadequate free school meal parcels being shared on social media over the last couple of days.
Throughout the pandemic, increasing numbers of families have faced extremely challenging circumstances, with many losing income and having to support children at home whilst schools have been closed.
Unfortunately, as schools have been forced to close again, we are seeing the same problems of the first lockdown repeating themselves, with families struggling to access free school meal vouchers and being provided with low quality food parcels. Already the projects and schools we support have seen an increase in need with more families being referred for emergency support.
Anna Gavurin, Co-ordinator of Caritas Food Collective, said: ‘We believe every child deserves to have access to fresh, nutritious food and every family should be able to access food in a dignified manner. At Caritas Westminster, we have supported struggling families during the pandemic by running a supermarket voucher scheme that has so far distributed over £170,000 in vouchers to more than 5,000 people. This has enabled families to shop for themselves, with dignity, and buy the items their families need most. This scheme has also helped parishes and schools to provide support for those who slip through the gaps and do not qualify for free school meals for certain reasons, such as having no recourse to public funds. In the last week, we have also been able to help schools support families who lost their jobs before Christmas and have not yet been given access to free school meal support.’
‘These vouchers have provided a lifeline for many and do give choice to families. However, increasing the cash available to struggling families is the most dignified solution. This offers families the ability to manage their budget more flexibly and keep on top of bills and other demands. It also allows them to shop in any retailer without stigma, enabling them to make savings and support the local economy. Direct financial support allows families to plan ahead and make the most efficient choices, rather than relying on food parcels. To call for this, Caritas Westminster has joined with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a coalition of charities to ask the government to make permanent the £20 uplift in universal credit and working tax credit, and to extend it to people on employment support allowance, income support and job seekers’ allowance.’
Colette Joyce, Co-ordinator of Diocese of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, said: ‘We have to ask as a society, who is benefiting from these food parcels? Is it the recipients or the companies with the government contracts? It is not good enough. We have to ensure that when parents are struggling, every child has access to a proper meal of the same quality that you or I would choose for ourselves.’
Caritas Westminster and Diocese of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission call on the government to:
- Ensure families have the option to access supermarket voucher and cash options;
- expand free school meal provision to ensure children do not miss out because of their parents’ immigration status; and
- keep the £20 uplift to universal credit so families have enough to live on and can manage their own budgets.
If you would like to donate to support the work of Caritas Westminster in providing supermarket vouchers and other emergency support, you can visit the Caritas Westminster donations page.
Photo: White City parish food stall, July 2019