In this House we all understand the profound impact that this pandemic has had on people’s lives. Supporting those on lower incomes and vulnerable families is at the heart of everything that we do as a Government. We have taken unprecedented action to support individuals and also to support families. We stepped in to pay the wages of over 9 million people through one of the most generous schemes anywhere in the world. We have launched self-employed income support schemes. We have increased universal credit and working tax credit by over £1,000 a year, injecting more than £6.5 billion into the welfare system. This Government have been firmly and wholeheartedly on the side of those who need help and support at every stage of this pandemic. We have provided millions of families with the support they need to pay their bills, keep their homes and feed their families. At times of crisis, we must think, above all, about the most vulnerable in our society. No one in this House, on either side of the Chamber, ever wants to see a child go hungry. We are all united in that simple view.
Let me remind hon. Members of the Conservative party’s record on free school meals. From 2014, free school meals were offered to further education students for the first time ever in the history of the free school meals programme. We extended free school meals to all infant children in England’s state schools, and an extra 1.5 million children are now receiving a healthy school lunch as a result of that decision. In our response to covid-19, we have for the first time provided free school meals for those who are currently at home.
We must remember that free school meals are not about providing financial support for families; they are there to support a child’s education. Receiving a healthy, nourishing meal is a critical way of helping a child to focus and to learn in school. It helps to enable a child to fulfil their potential, which is essential if we want to break the cycle of poverty from which far too many children right across the country suffer.