THE manager of a Romsey foodbank has criticised the Government after MPs rejected a bid to have free school meals for vulnerable children extended through the coming holidays.

As reported, Romsey's MP, Caroline Nokes, rejected Labour’s motion on Wednesday night, which called for the scheme to be extended over the school holidays until Easter 2021 and was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – a majority of 61 for the Government.

If approved, the motion would have provided 1.4m disadvantaged children in England with £15-a-week food vouchers.

The campaign was backed by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who himself endured food poverty as a child. He had called for MPs to put aside party politics before the vote.

According to research from the charity The Trussell Trust, experts have predicted foodbanks could be handing out six food parcels every minute - a 61 per cent increase in parcels needed across its UK network in October to December.

Manager of Romsey Foodbank in Greatbridge Road, Jo Topley, said they are continuing to see "an increase in demand" as they head into the colder season.

She stressed no one should "be forced to turn to charity to put food on the table" and called on the public to push for "long-term solutions in our social security system - solutions which keep money in the pockets of people who need it most".

Ms Topley said: "It doesn’t have to be like this. This week, we’re seeing the power there is in people coming together to call for change and throughout this pandemic we’ve seen that we care for each other; we want to be there for each other."

However, she did praise businesses and communities who have rallied together in a bid to help hungry children this half-term.

Ms Topley said: "The Marcus Rashford’s campaign has shone a light on the incredible compassion and generosity that exists in communities across our country.

"Individuals, businesses, schools, and countless other groups are doing all they can up and down the country to help families who will struggle to afford food during this half-term holiday."

MP for Romsey and Southampton, Ms Nokes, previously defended her decision to oppose the free school meals plan and said the "current system with redeemable vouchers is bureaucratic and expensive".

"The sheer mechanism to organise and then issue vouchers to eligible families is utter nonsense.

“It makes much more sense, in my view, to give an uplift to universal credit commensurate with the value of the vouchers, to those families with the qualifying child element of universal credit,” she said.

However, Ms Nokes added: "I do appreciate there are arguments around making sure the vouchers are used for food, as opposed to anything else, but I just feel that food vouchers do not buy school shoes or a winter coat, which at this time of year are also a priority.

"Raising children is difficult and expensive.”

Here is a list of some of the Romsey businesses offering free meals this half-term:

  • That Little Tea Shop in The Hundred is offering 250 free packed lunches to take-away. Lunches can be collected at 11.45am from today until Friday. You can call them on 07907078489.
  • The Bakery in Premier Way will provide 24 family lunchboxes for anyone in need. Residents can collect them on Wednesday, October 28. Anyone who would like a lunchbox should send The Bakery a message on their Facebook page by tonight.
  • The Hair Hut in Abbey Park Industrial Estate will be making packed lunches. They can be collected tomorrow and Friday at the salon. Residents are advised to privately message their Facebook page if they would like a packed lunch.
  • The Romsey Community School, Greatbridge Road, will be open to help families from today until 2pm, Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm, and on Friday from 10am to 2pm.
  • Cafe Fresh, Market Place, has revealed all children up to 12-years-old, with an adult, can eat for free from today until Friday.