Food charity condemns MPs’ rejection of free school meals support

Hebburn Helps was established in 2015 to help those in the town who need it most.


THE government’s decision to not back free school meals for children until Easter will have a huge impact on the local community, according to charity Hebburn Helps.

Conservative MPs overwhelmingly voted against the proposal, which was defeated 322-261 in Parliament.

The motion was put forward by the Labour party, and called on the Government to provide free school meals outside of term time, to help the families struggling most during the difficult winter months. 

Jo Durkin, who co-founded the Hebburn Helps in June 2015, said: “The ramifications of the vote on Wednesday (21 October) will have a huge impact on our community and we have been working around the clock since the first lockdown seven months ago.

“Providing for even one child during this time has been hard, so if you have more than that it has been very difficult. 

“This isn’t just affecting people on benefits either, it’s really hurting working families who are on minimum wage who have been furloughed, and so are only getting 80 per cent of what they’re used to. 

“Where are people like that going to get the money from to feed their family, pay their bills and keep a roof over their head?”

Manchester United player Marcus Rashford told politicians to “stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers” as he warned a “significant number” of children will go to bed hungry and “feeling like they do not matter” because of comments made in Parliament.

He called on people to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children, adding: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”

Rashford has long been a vocal supporter of children in need of help since the pandemic began.

But Conservative MP for Bassetlaw, Brendan Clarke-Smith – who says he was a recipient of free school meals when he was a child – opposed the motion.

“Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?”, he asked.

“I do not believe in nationalising children; instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility.

“This means less celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

Mrs Dunkin dismissed this notion, and said: “I think the rhetoric of people just not budgeting correctly is wrong. If they haven’t physically got the money how can they feed their family? 

Volunteer Ronnie Gibson prior to a delivery.


“When you are stuck indoors with your kids there are extra bills keeping the house going, especially at this time of year. The money just isn’t there, which makes it impossible to budget with.”

Mrs Durkin currently has 10 volunteers supporting her, and they provide roughly 50 packages every day to families in Hebburn.

She said: “We have been exceptionally busy since lockdown began and even more so after the announcement yesterday. 

“For the past couple of days we’ve been preparing for next week, as the kids are off school. We have had to get our heads together and provide meals for every day next week for families.

“We have made family food packs – which are a mix of frozen, tinned and fresh food – and we have made menus for them, so they know which day to use the food on. This is on top of the packed lunches we make today.

“I think Hebburn is the most amazing town. There should be a star next to our name on a map. We have a community that other communities should look up to. Everyone is rallying around to help!”

If you would like to donate to Hebburn Helps, you can reach them on their Facebook page.

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