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County Council Tories Vote Down School Breakfast Clubs For Needy Children

Published on: 9 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 11 Dec, 2020

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Conservative Surrey councillors voted down a Lib Dem motion to fund for school breakfast clubs at their meeting yesterday (December 9).

Cllr Fiona White (Guildford West) had proposed the council should make a one-off payment to schools in need for breakfast clubs so children do not go hungry.

Cllr Mary Lewis

But Cllr Mary Lewis (Con, Cobham), cabinet member for children, young people and families, proposed deleting provision of breakfast clubs and 54 of 75 councillors (72%) voted to accept this.

Cllr White said: “The situation with Covid-19 brought the issue of child poverty and particularly of free school meals into focus, but child poverty didn’t begin there.

“It has been a growing problem for a long time, and it’s likely to get worse, as the consequences of the pandemic work their way through society.”

During the pandemic, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen in some parts of Surrey by 300%.

Cllr Fiona White

“They live in all our divisions and not just those usually considered to have been deprived,” said Cllr White.

She wanted the council to lobby the government to consider reforms to Universal Credit and minimum wage, which she considered “inadequate” and “fundamental causes of child poverty”.

And she asked for a report to be done on child poverty in Surrey with a commitment in their next year’s budget to fund actions to address the issue.

But all of this was struck out in the amendment. Cllr Lewis said Cllr White’s motion “fell short”, “rushed to a quick solution” and “too simplistic” because poverty involved more than food.

She added: “The only long-term solution to poverty affecting children is having a buoyant Surrey economy with good levels of stable employment, and that’s the work of the One Surrey Growth Board [set up this summer to respond to economic challenges and opportunities] which is so important for helping children and young people fulfil their potential.

“We need to grow a sustainable economy so everyone can benefit; that’s the priority we have in the council.”

Cllr Julie Iles

Cllr Julie Iles (Con, Horsleys), cabinet member for all-age learning, agreed, saying she thought the original motion’s scope too narrow.

“The winter grant scheme demonstrates the power of a coordinated response with school leaders and partners,” she added.

SCC is to receive the first half of £2.2m from the government’s Covid winter support grant, most of which will be used as food vouchers for all of Surrey’s 17,000 children eligible for free school meals, through the Christmas holidays.

The grant money runs out at the end of March 2021. Cllr Lewis’s amendment replaced lobbying government for welfare reform with lobbying them to “continue to fund local government appropriately to mitigate the social effects of Covid-19, especially those affecting children and families”.

For Cllr White’s statement that “breakfast clubs make a huge difference not just to pupil wellbeing but also to the quality of learning and other outcomes”, the amendment replaced “breakfast clubs” with “system-wide initiatives delivered through early years’ settings, schools, health settings, family centres and elsewhere’”

Cllr Lewis said such initiatives would make good use of data collected in a community impact assessment of the pandemic.

Cllr White described the amendment as ‘business as usual’, and Robert Evans, Labour councillor for Stanwell, called it a “disingenuous attempt to deflect attention from a real need”.

The former headteacher added: “I know the value of breakfast clubs.”

Cllr Chris Botten

Caterham Cllr Chris Botten (Lib Dem) said: “The Surrey Growth Board won’t solve Surrey’s economic problems in January.”

He had urged councillors to support Cllr White’s motion. “It is practical and will catch people when they fall,” he said.

The seconder, Cllr Will Forster (Woking South), said: “By ensuring every child is well-fed we can make sure they get the most out of their education.

Cllr Will Forster

“As someone who was on free school meals as a child, I know how important this.”

Cllr Lewis’s amendment was agreed by everyone, except for four councillors who abstained.

After the meeting, Cllr White said: “While it’s disappointing we had to support the Conservative watered-down version of our motion to get it through and that the Tories removed most of the more robust actions we proposed, it is at least better than nothing.

“So many fellow councillors spoke powerfully on this issue and recognised that while there is some good work being done in the background, what we Lib Dems were looking for, were practical steps that would have an immediate impact on Surrey’s children in need.”

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