Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

Free School Meals clime down – Walsall Tories hung out to dry following Government U-turn

by Ian Shires on 9 November, 2020

Photo dated pre COVID-19

Liberal Democrat Councillors Ian Shires (Willenhall North) and Dan Barker (Short Heath) were less than surprised when the government announced it’s latest U turn, pledging to spend £400m to support poor children and their families in England after a highly successful campaign by Marcus Rashford. 

“It has become a common practice with this Government and yet again, we see just how completely out of touch with the mood of the people they are.  Even people who voted for the Tories at the last election were astonished that they could vote, in such numbers, against feeding young children in the midst of a pandemic”

This latest u-turn followed a House of Commons vote on 21 October where 321 Tories voted to oppose the funding of free school meals for the poorest children during the pandemic.  Following a meeting with Marcus Rashford, the Government decided to pledge more funds to support families.

This puts the Tory Council in Walsall in an extremely uncomfortable position. Following the initial vote, Conservative Council leader Mike Bird, who had previously said that families in Walsall suffer from food poverty because they have more children than they can afford, said that he supported the Government decision because there was no money left to fund free school meals.

“They say that there’s no money left.  At a time when record numbers of people are using food banks across our region, this is in very poor taste.”

“He even had the gall to say that local families could shop in Marks and Spencer. He might as well have cried, let them eat cake.”

“Local people have been appalled by this.  Other councils have made up the shortfall and supported the families who need it most.  Money is tight on councils, but we exist to serve the people, and we must take care of our most vulnerable.

The government decision sent shockwaves across Walsall, and thousands of people took to social media to petition against the decision.

Liberal Democrat activist Jennifer Gray said:

“In the 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen such an adverse reaction to a Government decision.  Residents wanted their local government representatives to challenge this motion, not support it.”

“Walsall residents don’t want to rely on food banks and free school meals, they want to provide for themselves.  When this is all over, we can focus on rebuilding. Right now, we must ensure that no child goes hungry”

Walsall resident Varun Sarna was one of the many people who were dismayed by the local government response:

“How does depriving our children of food, especially those most reliant upon free school meals, shape our future?  Inspire our nation? Set an example? Teach us right from wrong?”

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Ian Shires said that he will be seeking an apology from Tory Council Leader Cllr Mike Bird for the unnecessary hardship that he and his Cabinet caused many families during the recent half term holidays.

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