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Free school meals: No 10 should not ‘dictate’ policy and up to councils to feed children, Sunak says

Rob Merrick
·2-min read
 (Reuters/John Sibley)
(Reuters/John Sibley)

Rishi Sunak has appeared to rule out a U-turn over free school meals vouchers, saying the government should not “dictate” how help is provided.

“We should be able to trust local councils in different areas to make decisions for their people,” the Chancellor said.

The comment adds to evidence that ministers will not bow to pressure to fund holiday vouchers for hungry children, but may instead provide more indirect help through town halls.

Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat the government was "absolutely committed" to stamping out hunger – but there is a “debate about what the best way to do that”.

“We've taken the view that we have provided resources for local authorities to help in a targeted way the most vulnerable children that they need to look after,” he said.

“We've got to trust local councils in their area and we provide them with resources, as we have done in this case, and directly to families.”

The Chancellor added: “So I don't think it's always the right answer that central government comes in and dictates things.”

However, many councils say the £63m they were provided with in the summer has already been spent – and the government itself acknowledged it was only meant to last until October.

The comments come despite the government’s own food czar today lambasted ministers for not “doing enough” to feed hungry children.

Henry Dimbleby, the head of the national food strategy, called for more “in-kind support”, providing food and other services, which was more effective than boosting Universal Credit.

“This problem is real, it should go without saying it’s serious, it’s immediate and it’s going to get worse as employment gets worse and the government isn’t doing enough,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“One in seven families already are reporting not to be able to afford enough food.”

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