An analysis has found that suspending tax cuts for banks for just a week could fund meal vouchers for 1.9 million children in poverty over Christmas.
If Rishi Sunak’s government gave up tax cuts for seven days, it would raise enough money to feed all of England’s children who are entitled to free school meals during the school holidays.
Analysis of the Liberal Democrats, shared with The Independentshows an expected loss for the Treasury of £3.2bn next year from planned bank surcharge cuts and bank levy cuts – over £61m a week.
The opposition party said £61million could be used to provide £3 meal vouchers to children in poverty every weekday during the festive period.
Munira Wilson, the Lib Dems education spokeswoman, said: “It is totally inappropriate that this Conservative government is pushing for tax cuts for the big banks.”
“If Jeremy Hunt reversed the cut for just a single week, it would feed millions of children this Christmas. The fact that he’s so reluctant to do that shows how completely wrong his priorities are,” she added.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement confirmed that the planned reduction in the bank surcharge on Mr Sunak’s profits from 8 percent to 3 percent would take place from April 2023.
The amendment and recent cuts to the levy mean banks operating in the UK will save £18bn over the next five years.
The results come as MPs and activists are calling on Mr Sunak to expand both entitlements to free school meals and funding for holiday programmes.
The Independent has partnered with the Food Foundation for the Feed the Future campaign, calling for an extension of free school meals for all children in households on Universal Credit.
Around 1.9 million children are currently eligible, but a further 800,000 children in poverty are unable to get free meals because their family income – excluding benefits – is more than £7,400 a year after tax.
Last week Labor MP Zarah Sultana introduced legislation that would extend eligibility to all primary school children in England. She said the move would guarantee that “every child in England, whatever their background, gets a decent meal every day”.
The call comes amid fears hundreds of thousands of children in poverty are missing out on patchwork support being offered by local authorities over the Christmas holidays.
Analysis by activists from the government’s Holiday Activity Fund (HAFP) program – which funds councils for vouchers during school holidays – shows it has reached just 29 per cent of the 1.9 million children entitled to free school meals.
If the program has the same restricted reach again this year, 1.35million eligible children would be left without meal assistance during the holiday, Labor MP Kim Johnson has warned.
The MP urged Mr Sunak to expand the scheme, saying: “Give councils the tools they need to tackle holiday hunger this winter and make sure no child goes hungry.”
The Food Foundation said there was now a “postcode lottery” in place, with local authorities providing vouchers or other extra support during the holiday.
The Local Government Association said some councils could no longer afford to continue handing out vouchers through the government’s Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) scheme.
The education spokesman for the Lib Dems said the government had been “kicked and shouted” about helping children struggling with food poverty during the Covid pandemic.
“Yet their continued efforts to deny 800,000 children free school meals proves they either don’t care or they still don’t get the message,” Ms Wilson said.
She added: “Conservative ministers need to step up and expand free school meals and roll out grocery vouchers nationwide – it would cost a fraction of what they spend on vanity projects and helping their rich friends.”