Following the vote in the House of Commons on 21 October a number of constituents have contacted me about the issue of extending free school meals into the school holidays.
This was an issue that was originally raised towards the start of the coronavirus pandemic and I can understand the passion and deep feeling that it raises. I share many of your concerns. I also believe that we should all do what we can to alleviate child food poverty.
Last Wednesday 21 October, on what is know as an Opposition Day the Labour Party tabled a non-binding motion to introduce entitlement to meal vouchers for children eligible for free school meals.
Since the start of the pandemic the Government has invested totally unprecedented sums of money into protecting the most vulnerable families, the Government tabled an amendment to Labour’s motion using the following words:
“That this house notes that school meals are now fully operational following the COVID-19 outbreak, and will continue to offer free school meals in term time: welcomes the substantial support provided by the Government to children worth £550 million annually: further welcomes that this support has been bolstered by almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments; notes that eligible families have also been supported throughout lockdown through the receipt of meal vouchers worth £380 million while schools were partially closed, alongside the Holiday Activities and Food Fund; and will support the Government in its ongoing activities to help the most vulnerable children in society.”
Of course the opposition chose not to vote on this and therefore the motion was amended and goes unnoticed to the outside world. This is the nuance of the Labour Party playing politics in Westminster.
Meals will continue to be provided. We also need to think about the future
Some have asserted in emails that “the Government is taking away school meals”. This is simply not true. Meals will be continued to be provided as they were in term time before the pandemic.
During lockdown the scheme was brought in precisely because schools were closed. 99% of schools are open now.
Wider still, I believe that there are fundamental issues that need to be considered about child food poverty which needs to involve a number of agencies and factors. Free school meals vouchers during the holidays are indeed an attractive measure on paper but speaking as a practicing GP, it simply acts as a sticking plaster to a wider problem. I am concerned about issues associated with children’s nutrition and nourishment including enjoying their meal in full, improving cooking and food preparation knowledge, the understanding of what constitutes a healthy meal, and improving children’s physical exercise and energy. I want targeted support to those who need it most, I believe targeted support for lower income families is part of the welfare system not education especially in holidays, and so I am pleased to see the government put in place extra support in the Universal Credit payments an extra £1000, increased Local Housing Allowance and set aside a £180 million pound fund to help with rent and given councils £63 million pounds for councils to use for welfare, incredibly important especially at time of crisis.
This wider approach is needed. The Government has a role in working with agencies to deal with these issues and it is important to note what the Government is doing at this time of Pandemic:
- The Government has extended free school meals eligibility to include 1.4 million children
- For the last three years, Government has supported disadvantaged children through the Holiday Activities and Food programme
- This summer, an extra £9 million programme supported around 50,000 children across 17 local authority areas with free healthy meals and enriching activities.
- This year the Government provided further support with the extension of the Breakfast Club programme, supporting schools in disadvantaged areas
- Free school milk has also been provided and the school fruit and vegetable scheme has now restarted now schools have returned.
If you are aware of any constituents who are struggling to access the welfare system I urge you to get them to contact me so my office and I can help.
I also intend to do the following in Westminster
- Make a representation to the Department for Education about issues arising from the topic especially featuring the view of people in Bosworth.
- I am also working to ensure our job centre and DWP locally can help those in Bosworth in most need and have the support to do so.
- I will also continue to work in Bosworth and in Westminster, whether in the Chamber or through the Health and Social Care Select Committee to ensure that local healthcare systems continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities
- I will continue to lobby Government to ensure fairer funding for Leicestershire, further funding for our schools and to support the important community work of our public services.
I cannot finish without highlighting the tired and cynical party-political games being carried out by the Labour Party.
We have seen the use of Opposition Day motions designed with nothing more in mind than grabbing headlines several times already since I have been elected. In the motions the opposition try to create a narrative that is binary; they are aiming for simplistic newspaper stories and Twitter storms which fail to provide any substance about the issues under discussion. You will remember the previous attempts to argue that the Conservatives voted against NHS pay rises, or testing staff – both of which were untrue and both of which were purely to create a cynical narrative.
I think that politics should be, and can be better than this, especially at this time of global pandemic. Political game playing as demonstrated in the Chamber does nothing to progress issues, leads to misconceptions and resentment, and uncontrollable spats on social media. A sober analysis about sensitive issues, such as how to feed and support some of our most vulnerable children in society is lost.