A TEESSIDE council has said it will continue to feed the 7,500 children who are eligible for free school meals over the half-term break.

Middlesbrough Council said it recognised that the October half term would be difficult for many families, with the Covid crisis leaving many people out of work or working reduced hours.

This week, a motion backed by footballer Marcus Rashford to extend the free school meal programme through the half term and Christmas holidays was blocked by MPs.

The council has made emergency arrangements in under 24 hours to make cash payments to families who qualify.

Their parents or guardians will be entitled to a £15 payment per child towards the cost of food over half-term.

Mayor Andy Preston said: “I don't see this as a political issue, or one of right vs left.

"No parents in Middlesbrough should have to worry about being able to feed their kids. That's a simple fact. The October break is coming and we know these are extremely difficult times.

"Some people will be critical of the idea of us making cash payments, but when Middlesbrough families are in need, doing nothing isn't an option.

"It is grossly offensive to suggest to many of the hard-working parents whose children qualify for free school meals that our emergency system will be exploited.

"Quite often as a council there are things we'd love to do, but we come up against obstacles of funding or practicalities. In these exceptional circumstances we have found a way to do the right thing.

"When we can use our resources to be a force for social good, I will always push for us to do so.

"No child in this town should go without food, and we don't want families to be left further behind by this Covid crisis.

"I'm determined that Middlesbrough will become a hunger-free town. Not just over half-term but for years to come."

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said: “I applaud Middlesbrough Council for their decision to provide free school meal payments throughout the school holidays.

"We know that too many children across Middlesbrough rely on free school meals and that need does not disappear once a school term ends. 

“It has also been truly humbling to see the Middlesbrough cafes and restaurants offering free food throughout the holidays. These businesses have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic but they still go that extra step to stop children going hungry. 

“That any of this is necessary is because of all those Tory MPs who voted against providing free school meals. Their actions are beyond shameful.” 

Starting last night, parents whose children are eligible will receive a text message headed ‘MBC Award' which will contain a code.

This code will enable the payment to be redeemed from any PayPoint facility. Locations of shops with PayPoint can be found here: https://consumer.paypoint.com/cashout.

Anyone who believes they are eligible and doesn't receive a code by October 30  will be able to complete an application form on the council's website requesting a payment.

Payments will be made to parents in order of school. The council will provide updates via social media.

The half-term food payments will cost around £120,000 and be funded by government-allocated Covid finances.

In the weeks ahead the Council will explore options for a volunteer-led scheme that would food available for collection over forthcoming holiday periods.