Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:07 pm, 16th June 2020

On days like this, I despair of this Government and their complete lack of understanding, care and emotion towards the very real issues in our country. [Interruption.] It is not a laughing matter for children to be raised in poverty and not have food. It is not something to laugh at. I am happy to explain what it is like to the Government Members who think it is funny.

What it is like to live in poverty is to be palmed off, like I was as a child, to social services, to go away for a week at a time. I went to Scarborough. The only memories I have of that time are that I went birdwatching and it was awfully cold staying in a dormitory. Only this afternoon, I rang my sister to ask, “Do you remember when we used to go to Scarborough because Mum used to send us there for summer holidays?” That is what poverty is—memories that you do not want to recall as an adult, even in my mid-40s. These are not memories that my constituents’ children should have to recall in generations to come.

I despair because today it has taken the experiences of a 22-year-old black man using his social media to get this Government to do the right thing. Our Prime Minister keeps saying, “I am going to take back control.” Who actually took control of this debate today? It was not us in this House. We should have been leading on this issue and doing the right thing before it needed a massive campaign by Marcus Rashford. I absolutely appreciate and thank him for taking that leadership, and others for supporting him, and our those on our Front Bench, who lobbied early this week and talked about the issue previously, but the Government should not have had to be dragged here kicking and screaming.

The Government should not need an international debate—just like today on child poverty—on racism for them to realise that they have failed to provide race equality in the UK, even according to their own recommendations. The Government should not need the entire country to scream in their face to act on a lockdown for us to be protected from covid-19. When it comes to saving millions, they are happy to do so for Tory donors. The figure quoted in the press as the saving made by approving a Tory donor’s Westferry development is £30 million to £40 million, yet we cannot find £120 million for our children. [Interruption.] I will make some progress. When it comes to defending the indefensible with a No. 10 adviser, this Government seem to find their mojo. They do not heed the campaigns that the country is screaming for.