Following Marcus Rashford’s campaign for extending Free School Meal vouchers across the Christmas holidays, people and businesses throughout the United Kingdom have been stepping up to provide vulnerable children with food – including a group of students from the Feminist Society at the University of Surrey.
Following the partisan vote, that saw the opposition members bill defeated by the government, the University of Surrey Feminist Society were inspired to act, organising a food drive in the Guildford area.
The society is reaching out to local food banks to identify vulnerable individuals living locally and working with these organisations to understand which items of food would be the most important and go the furthest in supporting children throughout the upcoming holidays.
The Surrey Feminist Society building a campaign across the university, with Labour Society, Psychology Society and many others joining their “Donate to Help Out” drive. Members of the Surrey Feminist Society have also reached out to similar societies in universities across the South East.
The campaign will see students coming together during the week of 16th November, to donate food to a collection point at the University of Surrey, which will be donated to local food banks and help those who may otherwise go hungry during the Christmas holidays.
The students will campaign over the coming weeks to encourage both Surrey students, and people across the whole area, to “Donate to Help Out”, which will be collected throughout the week of the 16th November, before being donated to local food banks.
Students from the University of Surrey Feminist Society are encouraging people to come together and donate items or money;
“After the UK government voted against providing the UK’s poorest children with free school meals, as a committee, we were distraught. Immediately we started thinking what we could do to help.” – Alice Brooks, President of the University of Surrey Feminist Society.
It was estimated that in 2019, around 2 million people in the United Kingdom were eligible to use Food Banks, a figure that has only risen with the Coronavirus pandemic seeing many more families and individuals dip below the poverty line.
The students were inspired to act after the Free School Meals programme was not extended over the Christmas holidays. Although free school meal vouchers are not usually able to be collected during the school holidays, the government extended the programme across the summer of 2020 after footballer Marcus Rashford led a successful campaign.
The government reversed their prior decision and provided £15 per week vouchers to the estimated 13.7% of primary school children and 12.4% of secondary school children who are eligible and in receipt of free school meals during term time.
With the winter approaching, Marcus Rashford once again campaigned, looking to provide vouchers throughout the Christmas holidays, with a petition receiving over 300,000 signatures. This was in light of the Coronavirus pandemic resulting in a loss of income for around 33% of all families in Britain and causing a spike in the number of people dipping below the poverty line.
Whilst the number of children in receipt of Free School Meals had been declining since the 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic had tipped many more families below the income threshold of £7,400 after tax (excluding benefits) that qualifies children for the Free School Meals programme.
The Labour Party introduced an opposition day bill (where MPs from the opposition parties are able to propose legislation) to extend the programme through winter, with the estimated cost being around £30-50 million.
Along partisan lines – all but five Conservative MPs voted against the bill – the bill was rejected by Parliament and in the days since, thousands of people across the United Kingdom have been stepping up to fill the gap for many vulnerable families.
Many restaurants and cafes, as well as Supermarkets, have announced that they plan on stepping up to provide food to families that may otherwise be forced to skip meals during Christmas, a time when income is already particularly tight, as families try to provide the ‘perfect’ Christmas for their children.
Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has also announced that his city will provide for up to 20,000 vulnerable people in the city, coming just days after Liverpool was placed into a Tier 3 lockdown, threatening the livelihoods of many who are unable to work due to restrictions. Manchester plans to provide around 1000 food vouchers after they too were placed into Tier 3.
The University of Surrey Feminist Society is launching a drive to “Donate to Help Out” in their area, and are encouraging anyone interested in their campaign to reach out to them or set up a drive on their own campus;
“If you are involved with a society that would like to take part, please email us at email@example.com. Alternatively, if you would like to donate yourself, get in touch to find your nearest university taking part!”