A Labour lord has given a moving account of what it was like to grow up in poverty as a child in Burry Port during the 1940s.
Lord Griffiths, 78, spoke in the House of Lords on Tuesday about how his own family dreaded the school holidays as they could not afford enough food, after the UK Government’s controversial decision not to extend free school meals.
A campaign spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford led to the UK Government extending free schools meals during the Easter and summer holidays, but ministers have insisted they will not fund free school meals during half term in England.
In Wales, free school meals have been extended during school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.
Watch Health Secretary Matt Hancock supporting businesses offering free meals to children
The Labour peer said that growing up in Burry Port in Carmarthenshire during the 1940s, he could still ‘taste and smell’ the panic ahead of school holidays.
“I was in receipt of free school meals throughout my entire school career, my mother, a single woman, her only income was the contributions of the national assistance. We lived in one room,” he added.
“I remember very clearly, I can still taste and smell the mounting panic ahead of the school holidays because the income could not stretch to feeding two boys and a mother.”
Lord Griffiths added: “Marcus Rashford and I have this, and probably only this in common, we remember not in our heads, but in our whole bodies.”
The Manchester United footballer has been campaigning for an extension for free school meals throughout the holidays in a bid to help end child poverty and the petition reached one million signatures on Wednesday, October 28.
The 78-year-old Lord said that on many occasions he saw his mother Olwen go hungry after putting food on the table and pretending to eat it so that her two sons would be able to eat.
Speaking with The Mirror Lord Griffiths added: “We never ate meat until I was 16. There were sausages of sorts, but it was tinned tomatoes, bread, margarine. She would water down what she could get out of a tin of tomatoes.”
He and his brother also scavenged through rubbish for coal to heat the one room that he and his family lived in.
“It was a threadbare existence,” he added.
Speaking of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Lord said: “An old Etonian, of course, can’t be expected to have had the same experience.”
Since the Government announced that they would not be extending free school meals, a number of small businesses, communities and community groups have rallied together to provide struggling children with food throughout half term.
Find out more about food banks in your area here:
Thankfully, in Wales, free school meal provision will continue for eligible pupils this half term and for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021 but a number of businesses have been offering free meals to any children that need it.
You can find a list of some of the businesses in Wales offering their help here.
But Lord Griffiths added that it shouldn’t be down to local councils and communities to feed the vulnerable children.
“Some local councils will draw money from allocations they’ve recieved, others won’t. Some communities will rise to the challenge, others won’t. Some children will get through, most won’t.
“Post code lottery is not a formula that is destined to help the wellbeing of our children.”