I appreciate the immense difficulties posed by coronavirus, and that the most vulnerable in society have faced even greater challenges. Eradicating child poverty is an absolute priority, and I firmly believe no child should grow up hungry in an environment that limits their potential.
On Thursday 21st October, Parliament voted on extending free school meals during term time. I thought hard about this and voted against it for several reasons.
The Government has already extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes including breakfast clubs. Since the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Government has added over £9 billion to the welfare system. This £9 billion allowed the Government to:
- Increase Universal Credit by £1,000 per year
- Increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180 million fund to help families struggling with their rent
- Create a £63 million fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance
- Award £16 million to food charities
This is all funding that will go to families who need it the most.
The Conservatives extended free school meals over the summer holiday this year, because most children had not been in school since March, and families had been meeting the extra cost of this. This Autumn, 99% of children are back in school and have therefore been benefiting from free school meals during term time as normal.
Whilst I am keen to ensure that wherever possible, parents are the ones responsible for feeding their children out of school, I recognize that this is not possible for every single family. Nottinghamshire alone has over 16,000 pupils claiming free school meals.
I firmly believe that in the 21st century, no child should be left to go hungry; however, I do not believe an indefinite extension of Free School Meals into the school holidays is the long-term solution. We need to support those who need it the most, without creating a cycle of state dependency and that is a delicate balance and one which I fully support.