There are more than 16,500 kids living in low income households in Gloucestershire entitled to free school meals, according to the latest figures, as councils and businesses across the country step-in to help feed children during half term, writes Leigh Boobyer.

According to Gloucestershire County Council, the number of new applications for free school meals quadrupled since the start of lockdown in March from the same period last year.

The authority also said that 8,573 children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are currently receiving free school meals.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford is among people mounting pressure on the Government to change its free school meals policy ahead of the school holidays.

Earlier this week, a motion by the Labour Party calling on the Government to offer free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021 was voted down by MPs.

Among those who rejected were Gloucestershire’s Conservative MPs Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Richard Graham (Gloucester) and Mark Harper (Forest of Dean).

Both Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) and Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds) did not vote.

A spokesman from Home Start North and West Gloucestershire said: “In Gloucestershire, we’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact child food poverty can have on the families we help, both physically and emotionally.

“Not being able to feed their children puts an immense mental strain on the parents we work with, and the narrative that ‘people shouldn’t have kids they can’t afford’ is incredibly damaging to these families, not to mention unnecessarily inflammatory.

“Parents working two or more jobs to keep food on the table or going hungry themselves to ensure their children are fed shouldn’t be the norm, and we welcome the support of local individuals, schools, and businesses at a time when we are all struggling in our own way.

“We have shared a list of places parents can access help during half term on our Facebook page for those that need it.

“The sense of community and strength of humanity we’ve seen in the last couple of days has been overwhelming, and we know it will make a huge difference to local families devastated by child food poverty.

“It’s said it ‘takes a village’ to raise children, so let us as a county rally around families that need the support of their village at this crucial moment.”