Watch: Empty plates left at Ipswich Town Hall in school meals protest
The row over free school meals during half term and at Christmas has reached the steps of Ipswich Town Hall as protestors left empty plates to signify that children could go hungry because they may not be fed over holidays.
The protest – organised by community group the Ipswich Anti Loo Roll Brigade – was aimed at highlighting the need for children to have a meal in the middle of the day even when schools were out.
Organiser Daniel Harvey said supporters of the group had been helping organisations in the town who had been providing food for children who might otherwise be hungry – and there was growing anger over local MP Tom Hunt’s decision to vote against extending the free meals during half term.
He said: “We know there are children who are going hungry and we want to highlight that – it’s a great shame the Ipswich MP didn’t vote to allow them to get free meals.”
Ipswich mother Jade Lee had brought her daughters Lyra, five, and Willow, three, to put out empty plates. She said: “It’s a great shame that the schools haven’t been able to give out free school meal vouchers because no one knows which families really need them better than the teachers.”
Mr Hunt said he supported the right to protest – but was relieved it had happened at the Cornhill because there had been some suggestion there could be some plates left outside his home.
He said he had been in touch with Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks to ensure the local authority would be able to help any family that could not feed their children.
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Mr Hunt said: “The council has a £1.5m hardship fund and this is exactly the kind of case that they can help. In fact they can do far more than just provide free meals to children – they can give help and support to families much beyond that with things like food and fuel.”
In a letter to Suffolk councillors, Mr Hicks said the funding is made up of a £770,000 grant from the government in August and a further £800,000 from Suffolk public service leaders agreed the following month.
Of that, £600,000 has already been committed – but the rest is still available for those in hardship. Anyone who needs assistance from the fund should contact the Suffolk support line on 0800 068 3131 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.