Cllr James Barber

Labour & Co-operative Councillor in Cheshire East for Broken Cross and Upton ward and Champion for Young People

In Cheshire East, the borough in which I serve as a Labour and Co-operative Councillor, 7,500 children are entitled to Free School Meals. However, whilst these are of huge support for them in term-time, during the school holidays, many of our young people will struggle to get even a single decent meal a day. How can this be acceptable in one of the richest countries in the world?

Thanks to lobbying from myself and other Labour colleagues in Cheshire East, the Council has committed to making sure that food vouchers will be given out to those in need over the half-term holiday, ensuring no child goes hungry locally. As Cheshire East’s Champion for Young People, I commend the work our Children and Families team do, day in, day out.

However, whilst this support will be in place over half term, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue. A Welfare system that fails families who need it, rising prices and lack of access to food are causing an exponential rise in the usage of food banks and requests for food parcels. And whilst local charities and organisations are doing a magnificent job in supporting those in need, we need to do more.

That is why, on a local level, I’ve set up the Cheshire East Food Poverty Taskforce, a non-partisan, grassroots organisation aiming to bring together local businesses, charities, organisations, stakeholders and politicians, to form a network of people fighting for an end to Food Poverty in Cheshire East. Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s national campaign to #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY, we want to work cooperatively with people across Cheshire East to achieve our first 5 preliminary aims, which are:

  1. Create the ‘Cheshire East Food Charter’ for partner groups to sign up to, which will ensure a collective responsibility to fighting food poverty.
  2. Form a Taskforce Network of local businesspeople, charity workers, community figures to coordinate community responses to food poverty and identify local need.
  3. Lobby Councillors, MPs, Government and businesses to take action on the Food Poverty Crisis both locally and nationally.
  4. Campaign for the extension of Government-Funded Free School Meals into School Holidays and also for wider Welfare Reform nationally.
  5. Create an ‘army of volunteers’ across Cheshire East (regardless of political views/affiliation) to mobilise in their communities.

Putting ‘Co-operative’ values at the heart of the fight against Food Poverty is crucial, which is why we take a party-politically neutral stance, in order to ensure a broad-church of people committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society. We have already seen support from supporters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and local Independents, and we hope to see even more people join us.