Published: 19:41, 23 October 2020
| Updated: 10:05, 24 October 2020
A council is set to support thousands of children with free school meals across half term.
Around 6,000 children across the area access free meals during term time.
The new support comes as part of an initiative by the council and Citizens Advice Medway (CAM) following the defeat of Labour's bid to extend the policy.
There was outrage on Wednesday night after 322 members of parliament voted against the proposals, which suggested that the most disadvantaged children should receive food vouchers worth £15-a-week during the school holidays between now and Easter.
Only one Kent MP voted in favour of the campaign, which was supported by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.
Since the vote, a number of companies and groups across the county and Medway have promised to support children who need help in their area.
The campaign by the council and CAM will use a one-off payment previously awarded by the government's Emergency Assistance Grant to help provide the meals.
Families who contact the charity will be provided information on how they can access free lunches for eligible children during the week, while the council has contacted schools across Medway and asked them to share details of the initiative with parents and carers.
Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “We are committed to supporting Medway’s most vulnerable children, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has caused further financial pressures for some families.
"It is important children and families continue to receive the support they need and deserve in these challenging times.
Cllr Martin Potter, Medway Council’s head of education and schools, added: “Children are at the heart of everything we do and I am pleased that we will be continuing to offer free school meal provision for children during half term.
'It is important children and families continue to receive the support they need..'
"I would encourage families whose children are eligible to contact Citizens Advice Medway for more information.
"We are committed to ensuring all children in Medway receive the best start in life.”
Citizens Advice Medway CEO, Dan McDonaldsaid: “Those who rely on Free School Meals are facing a desperate struggle this school break in light of the government decision not to provide food for children who rely on Free School Meals over the next fortnight.
"Citizens Advice Medway will be providing food and vouchers to eligible vulnerable families over the next two weeks. Both the leader of the council and I recognise the need to work with and support the most vulnerable families in the Medway Towns during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
"We already have a close relationship with Medway Council as we deliver the Emergency Support Grant and look forward to taking our relationship further.”
Medway Labour Group leader Cllr Vince Maple had issued a plea urging his Tory counterpart Cllr Alan Jarrett to follow the example of 36 other councils in England, which have said they will support families in need.
In a letter, he wrote: "We saw this week parliament taking the decision to reject the proposal to continue free school meals provision during school holiday.
"That doesn't mean we have to take that approach for Medway children.
"We know across our community approximately one in five schoolchildren receive free school meals, with that figure being in excess of 50% in some schools.
"The pressures families are finding themselves in with delays in welfare support and reduced availability of work means there is a real and present danger of children going hungry at those times they don't receive the nutritious free school meals offered during term time.
"We believe Medway should do right for its most vulnerable children."
The number of youngsters who were eligible and claimed free school meals in Medway in 2019 was 6,388.
If your child is eligible and you would like to access the free school meals being offered in Medway during autumn half-term, please contact Citizens Advice Medway by calling 01634 383760 or emailing email@example.com.