Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Education 3:56 pm, 16th June 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
welcomes the Government’s decision to provide schools with their expected funding to cover benefits-related free school meals including the national voucher scheme over the Easter and May half-term holidays;
notes the decision of the Welsh Government to guarantee each eligible child the equivalent of £19.50 a week up until the end of August to cover their meals over the summer holidays;
and calls on the Government to continue to directly fund provision of free school meals, including the free school meal voucher scheme for eligible children over the summer holidays to stop children going hungry during this crisis.

It is a pleasure to open today’s debate on such an important motion—Labour’s call on the Government to provide free school meals over the summer holidays, so that all children can have a holiday without hunger. This is an issue that has gained significant traction over the past few days, with a chorus of charities, legal campaigners, Sustain and Good Law Project, Members across the House, good people tweeting all over the country and, of course, Manchester United star, Marcus Rashford. I am not only proud to be a Man United fan—that one of our own in Greater Manchester never forgot where he came from and used his profile to help those without a voice—but I am proud that he and those who have joined him have shown the very best that our country can be. I am delighted to say that the Government seem to have heard the cries and they appear to have done a U-turn on their decision to end the free school meal voucher scheme over the summer holidays.

I do have questions for the Secretary of State to address—not least, we need confirmation that the guarantee that free school meals vouchers will be provided over the summer holidays is concrete. However, as he will appreciate, this small win will be bittersweet overall if we do not now set about tackling the root cause of why many children are forced to rely on free school meals in the first place—poverty. Marcus, in his heartfelt letter, asked one important question yesterday:

“Can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”

If we could all agree on that principle, there would be no debate to be had today.

I know that there are Members on the Government Benches—and, of course, on the Opposition Benches —who agree. They will tell stories of the horrific hardship that families in their constituencies have had to suffer daily. They will illustrate that to succeed in life, a child must have a bedrock of security, love and a full belly. They will transcend party lines to unify together in support of our children, showing the very best side of Parliament today.