For three years Unite Community Norfolk branch has helped finance and run the holiday hunger project in Mile Cross providing many thousands of packed lunches during the holidays.
Each year the demand for these meals has grown. We have seen at first hand the effect of poverty, and the difficulty and sadness of parents unable to feed their children adequately during the holidays.
We have never understood why the government does not provide school meals during the holidays. We can assure the Prime Minister and his cabinet that children are just as hungry during the school holidays as they are in term time.
Last year Unite set up a campaign to extend school meals into the holidays or its equivalent through the benefit system, as a right. This was adopted by the Labour Party before the elections – but not by the Conservative Party.
Covid-19 has exposed the extent of hunger and need. Therefore, we are relaunching the campaign to make free school meals during the holidays, a permanent event. We believe “Free school meals during the holiday is not just for Covid, it is for always.” While we welcome the government’s U-turn on vouchers over the summer holiday, we want to see these vouchers appearing before every holiday.
Finally, as a union we have been fighting for years against demonising the poor and unemployed as “shirkers and skivers”. Not all of them live off trust funds. Behind this fog of accusations, very real hardships exist.
It also enabled a punitive benefit system to emerge – Universal Credit – which many millions more people are about to endure, some of whom fell into the trap of believing that the unemployed were undeserving. Universal Credit was unfit for purpose before the pandemic and it will be just as unfit after it.
By Brian Green, branch secretary Unite Community Norfolk
Pic of Brian by Peter Everard Smith