Boris Johnson’s food tsar has demanded a £1bn plan to fulfil the “moral duty” to stop poor children going hungry.
Henry Dimbleby made a string of recommendations earlier this year which haven’t yet been fulfilled – including a huge expansion of holiday clubs, and making £3.10-a-week Healthy Start vouchers more generous for new mums.
Now the Leon founder has urged No10 to “set aside ideology” as he outlined a plan to end the row triggered by Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals during the holidays.
His blueprint includes a holiday activity and food programme costing £500milion a year, a £100m healthy food voucher scheme and £670m extension of free school meals.
He told the Times: “There is a genuine problem with food poverty that has been exacerbated by this ( coronavirus ) crisis. We have a moral obligation to set aside questions of ideology.
“If we can’t solve this, who are we? I don’t understand why they (the Government) haven’t owned this. Their mission to is to level up.
“Clearly there was this massive bear trap that they walked straight into. It has cut through to a wide proportion of the population who ask, ‘Why when you’re spending all this money are you letting children go hungry?’”
The former head of the Government’s Troubled Families Unit urged the PM to “crack on with” providing free school meals over the Christmas break.
Dame Louise Casey, who was also the Government’s homelessness tsar, told Times Radio: “My heart is utterly breaking for the fact we seem to be in some political debate about whether we should extend free school meals for Christmas.”
She added: “It’s that perfect storm of reduction in service, reduction in benefit to people, rising costs, and I feel a very blinkered approach at the moment taken by the Government, particularly over the issue of free school meals, that masks a greater out of touchness with the public mood.
“I can’t tell you how many Conservatives and how many people I’d describe as being sort of centre-right One Nation Tories – they’re not happy, and neither should they be happy.
“I think Boris Johnson isn’t happy saying, ‘I’ve pledged to make sure every kid doesn’t go hungry this Christmas’. Well, let’s crack on with it then, Prime Minister.”
In July Mr Dimbleby released the first National Food Strategy report with a string of demands on government.
It called for free school meals to extend to every household on Universal Credit, not just those with total earnings under £7,400.
This would more than double the number of kids aged 7 to 16 eligible, from 1.1million to 2.6million, and cost £670m a year.
His report also called for ministers to extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, to help children during the summer holidays. A pilot last year reached 50,000 children.
And he called for Healthy Start vouchers – worth £3.10 a week for new mums to buy fruit, veg and milk – to rise to £4.25.
Take-up of the Healthy Start scheme plunged from 73% in April 2015 to 48% in June 2020, the lowest in five years.