Child poverty: Why are we letting children go hungry? In the Autumn Statement (November 17), the Chancellor ignored the call to help the 800,000 children who live in poverty but are not eligible for free school meals.

The earnings threshold of £7,400 combined household income (pre benefits, post tax) has remained unchanged since its introduction in 2018.

This is despite soaring living costs. Now more than ever children need access to the nutritional safety net free school meals provide.

The End Child Poverty Coalition (Loughborough University) found that for 2020/21, before the current cost of living crisis, 2,215 (26.03 per cent) children in Ryedale and 2,948 (20.64 per cent) children in Hambleton were living in poverty.

These figures are likely to be much higher in 2022. Many of these children do not meet the free school meals eligibility criteria.

The government has chosen to ignore the recommendation made in this year’s National Food Strategy to prioritise the widening of the eligibility for free school meals.

Last month a survey from The Sutton Trust, “The cost-of-living crisis and its impact on education” found: “Schools are seeing growing numbers of hungry, cold and tired pupils.” Thirty eight per cent of teachers reported an increase in children coming into school hungry.

The estimated cost of extending free school meals to more children is between £555m and £790m a year (the upper figure would include all those children who live in a household that receives universal credit).

These children would not only receive free school meals but benefit from additional in school funding (pupil premium) to support them in the classroom and access activities and meals in the school holidays. England trails behind Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in their commitment to extend free school meals to ensure children do not go hungry.

Can we expect any action from Kevin Hollinrake, MP to help these children?

Bev Southwell, Bagby, Thirsk.

Face masks

I UNDERSTAND that Darlington Memorial Hospital has announced that the wearing of face masks will be reintroduced for staff, patients and visitors in clinical areas, following a rise in Covid-19 and flu cases.

Whilst I welcome the move, it begs the question of why it was ever stopped.

Some months ago, a flu wave was predicted as was a rise in Covid cases over winter.

Hospital chief executives are paid handsomely, surely these protective measures should be obvious common sense and should have been implemented much sooner.

Such measures would have lessened the pressure on an already busy NHS.

The reason given for the reintroduction is in order to protect vulnerable people.

As someone who has visited this hospital recently and who is also deemed vulnerable, I find it ironic that staff have failed to wear masks for some months now, despite knowing of my medical history and I’ve been left to ask them to do so.

Vulnerable people need to be treated as such and not in an environment of ever-changing rules.

Name and address supplied.

Fuel efficiency

I HAVE recently received “go paperless” green propaganda from BT.

This stated that 25 per cent of landfill was paper, which I found astonishing, if true.

All waste which is burnable needs high temperature incineration, to produce electricity, which should be for light and power only, and no more massive waste with fires.

There has been, seemingly, no reaction from the “green brigade” to the BBC documentary about wood burning at Drax power station, near Goole.

We are supposed to save the planet by planting untold millions of trees, yet numerous wagon trains of Baltic woodchip go past my house each day – did I hear someone say “hypocrites”?

Frankly, I seem to recall the old coal fire being more efficient than present methods, apart from the cast iron woodburning/smokeless fuel stoves.

Can anyone say why a chimney lining is required for these when logic says there must be little difference in exhaust from an old coal fire?

G B Butler, Stockton-on-Tees.

A year in politics

AS the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2022 some thought it will be out with the old and in with the new.

But you don’t have to be a psychic to predict what is going to happen on the political front in 2023.

We left 2022 with two PMs axed, poll ratings in the gutter, scandals galore and an economic Armageddon.

The government will launch 2023 by tackling two main issues: illegal immigration and crime and disorder.

If this announcement sounds familiar then you are correct – the same declaration was trumpeted only last year.

Yes, ‘’groundhog day’’ has turned into ‘’groundhog year’’.

Next comes the cost-of-living crisis. The average energy bill could rise by as much as £900 this coming year.

Covid and the Ukraine war will again be used as the chief motivator for the economic crisis.

Proof enough that old chestnuts are not just reserved for Christmas.

This year will be dominated by more public sector strikes, results of the Partygate scandal and the occasional banana skin just waiting for some sucker MP to step on.

There’s local elections too, right here in our region, the first real test since the 2019 General Election.

Will the Red Wall hold up, or crumble into tiny pieces? Will Ben Houchen’s dreams turn to dust?

On a larger scale, could 2023 be General Election year? Not according to the bookmakers, who are offering four to one for it to happen.

Despite this, campaigning and leaflet drops by MPs like Darlington’s Peter Gibson and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland’s Simon Clark have increased tenfold.

Those four to one odds might be worth a punt after all.

Stephen Dixon, Redcar.

New Year Honours

I SEE in the New Year’s Honours list, former permanent secretary at the Treasury Sir Tom Scholar – who was summarily sacked by Liz Truss on her first day in office – is made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

After the 44 disastrous days of the Truss government, I would have thought a peerage for Sir Tom, might have been the best appointment of all.

Elevating him to a position as cabinet minister without portfolio to go along with it, to put him around the cabinet table and ensure his continued wise counsel for the Rishi Sunak government, would also correct the error of his dismissal.

Councillor Nigel Boddy, deputy leader Lib Dem Group, Darlington Council.

Winter of discontent

STRIKES are everywhere and with more union ballots scheduled, the revolt will become more widespread.

Conservative MPs are in meltdown. One told the Daily Mail it was all the fault of a picket line loyalty card! Another raised the predictable spectre of ‘’activists’’ and ‘’flying pickets’’. How out of touch can you get?

What’s really causing the wave of working-class solidarity that so frightens the Tory political elite?

Could it be grievances over years of real terms pay cuts, attacks on terms and conditions and services at breaking point?

Is it a reaction by ordinary people to raging inflation, driven by supply rather than demand, made worse by the price hiking profiteers of big business?

Tory MP Damian Green told the Daily Mail that ‘’for some unions these are political strikes’’ but only a fool believes the so-called “independent pay review body” isn’t being leaned on by the Tories or that government fingerprints aren’t all over this and previous rail disputes.

Of course strikes are political. Conservative MPs may inhabit ivory towers but we don’t!

Bills have to be paid and food put on the table. Getting proper funding for the NHS, fair pay for nurses and demanding a safe rail network means defeating this government.

To the Conservatives all strikes are dangerous because issues of justice, democracy and fairness are at their heart.

C Walker, Darlington.

Greatest of all time

MY absolute favourite footballer of all time has died and football will be sadder as a result.

My wife, who is not a football fan, loved that 1970 Brazilian World Cup-winning team and the epicentre of that team was Pele who, apart from being the greatest footballer that ever was, in my opinion, a gentleman.

My next two favourite players were Maradona and George Best, wonderful players but flawed and lacking Pele’s class.

I watched very little of the 2022 World Cup because of the politics involved but from the little I saw, there was no way I could see it as the best World Cup ever.

Half the time the ball was being passed back to the goalkeeper or the ball was being skied over the goal.

The Argentine goal keeper was a disgrace. Messi and Mbappe should have been protected more by the referees.

That’s my take anyway and, finally, thank you Pele for blessing your era, showing how football should be played.

Thomas Ball, Barnard Castle.

Festive nostalgia

I WONDER why TV companies show so many animated films at Christmas or dig up all the old films to show. Some are so old they are black and white, I think they can do better if they try.

GO Wright, Sadberge.