On Wednesday 21 October, parliament voted on extending the free school meals voucher system over the half-term school holidays. Prompting the vote was Marcus Rashford MBE, who campaigns against food insecurity. Results were 261 ayes to 322 noes, with Colchester MP Will Quince voting no.

With increased unemployment due to COVID-19, many families do not have a steady enough income to feed their children. COVID-19 has hit FSM qualifying families and families working a low-paid job.

Will Quince disclosed several reasons for his vote. This included the government investing in more localised and community funding to provide food for struggling families. These details “have not been mentioned in the discourse resulting from the vote”, explained Mr Quince. Overall, the government has provided £63 million of funding, with Essex County Council receiving £1.3 million of it. The council has used this to fund its Holiday Hunger Programme among 33 other programmes. These all provide free activities and food over the holidays and have benefitted more than 1000 children.

Nevertheless, families are uninformed of the programmes. The government needs to not only fund the projects but support them to increase awareness of them.

The government have also been funding Foodbanks by allowing them to apply for £2500 towards half-term holiday packages. However, in the aftermath of the vote, Colchester Foodbank wrote on social media that “in partnership with The Trussell Trust, (they) are working hard, with extended shifts and partners” as well as encouraging signatures on a petition that asked the Government to support vulnerable children during these times. With 2488 children receiving FSM in Colchester, £2500 equates to just under a measly £1 each.

Mr Quince further explained that he supported the 6-week voucher system due to school closures, but now children have returned, they can receive free school meals once again. Though, it begs the question if free school meals should have been provided during school holidays pre COVID-19.  Children do not stop eating because it is the school holiday.

If you struggled during the half-term, now, or will do when the next school holiday hits; many non-judgemental support systems are in place for your family. Within the October holiday, many independent Colchester restaurants opened their doors for meals, free of charge. Look around for news of these during the Christmas period. As mentioned above, Colchester Foodbank is there to help you with packages, ask if you qualify. Another program is Firstsite Colchester’s holiday fun, with free meals and activities during the school breaks.

Within 2020 especially, emphasis has been put on community togetherness and our health. If the Government won’t help, how can you? Consider buying more products in your next shop and donating them to Colchester Foodbank directly. If you would prefer, you can also donate money towards either Colchester Foodbank or The Trussell Trust. The donation will go towards buying supplies for the food packages. Most importantly, support your neighbours. Provide them with a support network, if they need it.

Though no Governmental support was provided within the last half-term, MP Will Quince assures Colchester that “colleagues and I are constantly looking at what more we can do to support disadvantaged and vulnerable families and the Christmas holidays are front and centre of our minds”. He believes, like many of us, that “one child going hungry is one child too many”.