There is an opportunity, and in fact an imperative, to involve wider civil society in getting kids back into school.
While I saw the force in the Minister’s plans, the simple truth to me was that they introduced a layer of bureaucracy and administration, and I was concerned that there was a risk that some of that funding would be delayed, or it might vary or be uneven between local authorities. The fact of the matter is that 1.3 million children are eligible to receive free school meals. They have been identified; their eligibility has been confirmed. They are already receiving the meal or a voucher if they are not in school at the moment. If we have the capability and the will to help children through this period, it is incumbent upon us to find the most direct and accessible means of doing so.
My second point is that it is absolutely right that 12 weeks into the lockdown, we fix our focus very firmly on children. I have thought about the sequencing of how we proceeded through this period. The Government’s starting point, which was absolutely right, was the extremely clinically vulnerable and their protection, and, in fact, the provision of food was an integral part of that. I think that 2 million food boxes—I may be wrong; it may be more—have been distributed in the last 12 weeks.
We then turned our focus to workers and the unprecedented package of support for the 9 million people benefiting through the furlough scheme and the 2.5 million people benefiting through the self-employed income support scheme. We then looked at charities and businesses across every sector, whether it was in terms of grants, business interruption loans, bounce-back loans, future funds or discretionary loans. There was such an array of options, and yet the category of people that we know the very least about are children, and particularly, disadvantaged children, because the fact is that their emails do not fill our inboxes.