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Food Justice Action Plan approved by Suffolk County Council in effort to help struggling families make ends meet

An action plan to tackle food poverty in Suffolk is to be published before the end of next year as part of a pledge to help families struggling to make ends meet.

Suffolk County Council made the pledge during the full council meeting last week, in which it vowed to work with the county’s district and borough councils on a Food Justice Action Plan, after it emerged 1,500 more pupils were claiming free school meals.

The plan is to be completed by the end of 2021 to begin supporting families struggling to put food on the table as soon as possible.

Suffolk county councillor Jack Abbott. (26812418)
Suffolk county councillor Jack Abbott. (26812418)

Other measures included further measures to encourage families to take up free school meals, and nominate one of the council’s cabinet members to take on the additional responsibility of delivering food justice.

The motion was backed unanimously.

Cllr Jack Abbott, spokesman for children’s services with the opposition Labour group, said: “All of us recognise these are exceptionally difficult times for many people at the moment and it would be unedifying for children to be left to go hungry. Child hunger does not stop for the summer holidays.

“In Suffolk it’s estimated around 50,000 children are living in poverty. I think we would agree these figures are shocking and shameful.

“We know the economic and social pressures on our residents is only going to increase so it is crucial therefore we start tackling the root causes of food poverty and hunger.”

Mr Abbott said he hoped the work could be completed before the end of 2021 and said the “terrible pandemic will only have exacerbated the issue”.

The council said it regularly writes to families which are eligible for free school meals but not taking advantage of the system encouraging them to do so, as well as working with schools to do the same.

The deadline for eligible families to apply in time for the vouchers over the summer was Friday, but the council has pledged that it will ensure vouchers get to any child who becomes eligible over the summer.

Currently, around 17,600 pupils claim free school meals in Suffolk – an increase of 1,500 during lockdown.

Paul West, Conservative cabinet member for communities, pointed to around £250,000 allocated to food banks as part of its work but said that there is still a lot more to be done.

He added: “There are times when people will struggle through no fault of their own, through unemployment, physical of mental ill health, bereavement or just life in general.

“The one thing for sure is those people at difficult times won’t care much about the political arguments had by politicians on a national stage.

“That’s why the council’s principals are very much action and compassion.”

The council confirmed that it had been successful in its bid for £963,000 Department for Education funding to deliver a summer holiday activity and food programme.

Cllr Penny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said food poverty was also in the county’s rural areas where it was hidden more, and added: “We need to get this work done now and help these families that are in crisis.”

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