Boris Johnson’s own food tsar has said he “isn’t doing enough” to help hungry kids and “must act” in devastating verdict on the government.
Henry Dimbleby’s Holiday Activity and Food programme is being considered by ministers as a way of breaking the free school meals deadlock.
But the Leon founder today intervened to say he had no idea what the government is planning – and there must be quicker action.
Mr Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This problem is real, it’s serious, it’s immediate and it’s going to get worse as employment gets worse.
“The government isn’t doing enough.
“One in seven families already are reporting not being able to afford enough food.
“Projections of unemployment range from 1.4million at the end of the year to 4.4million… and we know that before this crisis 17million working people only had £100 of savings to fall back on.
“So we’re going to have a situation where a lot of people with high fixed costs, who didn’t imagine for a moment they would find themselves unemployed at the beginning of the year, are going to struggle to feed their family.
“The government really must act.”
Boris Johnson yesterday rejected pleas to extend £15-a-week food vouchers for the poorest kids over the half-term and Christmas holidays despite a campaign by Marcus Rashford.
But the Prime Minister repeatedly hinted he will hand more money to councils instead, who can locate the children most in need.
Reports suggest he will extend the Holiday Activity and Food programme, the brainchild of Mr Dimbleby which was piloted across 17 councils over the summer.
According to The Daily Telegraph, it would allow children to be given at least one meal a day outside of school time, and could be combined with extra study time to help pupils catch up on missed education.
This could help meet one of Marcus Rashford’s three campaign demands – to “provide meals & activities during all holidays”.
But critics fear it will not be enough because it could lead to a postcode lottery depending on how much help councils can give.
Mr Dimbleby said his holiday club programme would be the best way to solve the problem – but also called for free school meals eligibility to extend to all families on Universal Credit, and a ramping up of Healthy Start vouchers for younger kids.
Those two demands are also made by Marcus Rashford.
And Mr Dimbleby said it was “odd” that ministers had boasted they pledged £63m to councils in June – as the money was only meant to last until October.
Mr Dimbleby said “in-kind support” through holiday clubs, providing food and education, had been shown to have a better impact than putting the same “small amount of money” into Universal Credit.
“I haven’t been backward in coming forward with ideas that I have been feeding in to Treasury, to Education and to Number 10, ideas of how they could rapidly implement this by Christmas,” he said.
“But … the dark centre of government is invisible to me and I have no idea exactly what they’re working on as we speak.”
It came after a millionaire Tory Business Minister claimed getting meals was not actually the most important thing for hungry kids.
Nadhim Zahawi claimed activities were actually more important for children who took part in pilots over the summer.
He told Sky News: “It’s not just about the food.
“I spoke to [charity boss] Carol Shanahan in Stoke on Trent. She tells me that in wards where families want to keep their children safe during those activities, they also appreciate the food – but more important than the food to them was the activities.”
He added: “These are incredibly important pilots, and we will look at how we can learn from those and how we can build on this.
“The best way to do it – as the Prime Minister quite rightly outlined – is through local government, 17 local authorities participated in that pilot, and of course through the actual welfare system, the Universal Credit system, delivering that additional help for those families.”
He dismissed speculation about a rift between Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak over £150 million to fund meals during the half-term break.
Mr Zahawi said that was “speculating on stuff I don’t recognise”, adding: “There is absolutely lockstep between the Chancellor and the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister and this Government to make sure we target funding to those families that need it.”