It is a pleasure to be able to talk in this debate, which is on such a fundamentally important issue. I thank Ministers for what they have said today. It has helped me to avoid my worst nightmare of having to vote with the Labour party, which I spent the day fearing I might have to do. I am grateful for that, if nothing else. I also put on record my thanks to Mrs Lewell-Buck for all she has done over the years on this issue. It has been largely unsung, and she deserves much more praise than she gets.
It is hard not take an interest in this issue when one represents a town such as Blackpool. We have eight of the 10 most deprived areas in the country. Two of them are in my constituency. No one will know my constituency better than the Secretary of State, given that he preceded me there as a candidate. He will know that we are probably not facing a V-shaped economic recovery in Blackpool, where we have a fragile visitor economy and where the impact of coronavirus will be felt not just this year but for many years to come.
Nor will we see a V-shaped recovery in educational attainment, I fear, having had too many of our pupils away from education for too long. Too many of my primary schools see 50% of their pupils in each class change every year, as families move around the town in insecure, short-term tenancies in poor quality housing where the possibility of proper home education simply does not occur. That is why we see the inevitable spikes in food bank demand every time the summer holiday comes around, despite the very best efforts of so many charitable organisations around the constituency. In this context, I want to name Hannah Boyd, the curate at St Mark’s, who has done so much in Grange Park.
This is why I really welcome what Ministers have said today. I think they are doing the right thing. Merely rolling over to yet another programme of free school meals over another school holiday does not tackle the fundamentals of this. We would simply be having this debate every time there was a school holiday, with people asking whether we were going to roll it out again and again. Now, we have a chance to try to tackle some of the more fundamental issues that we face, which I know the hon. Member for South Shields and many others have been focusing on. I want to see a much more decentralised approach to tackling holiday hunger. We do not need yet another overly bureaucratic national attempt that tries to fit our young people and communities into a one-size-fits-all solution. Blackpool’s needs are very different from the needs of Staffordshire, Bradford and many other communities.
This represents an opportunity to think a little more deeply about what we want to achieve in relation to holiday hunger, because it is really a symptom of many other issues, not least that of financial insecurity. We still have too many people in absolute poverty. That is when families have been below the poverty line for three years out of four. That is a real concern of mine in Blackpool, and there are so many ways in which it can be tackled that I could easily spend the next 20 minutes talking about them. Tackling financial insecurity is the first step towards tackling food insecurity. We need to address issues such as food deserts, which mean that some of my poorest families cannot access good-value food, and cheap fresh food in particular. We also need to promote ideas such as community shops, which were around a couple of years ago but have now disappeared into nothing again. There is so much that we can do.
It is true that the coronavirus lockdown has acted as an accelerant on the fire of so many of the burning injustices that the last Prime Minister spoke of on the steps of Downing Street. Whether we call it social justice, compassionate Conservatism or levelling up, I really do not care. I just think this happens to be the right thing to do. Many people across the country in some of the most deprived communities voted for us for the first time last December. That is why we got to hear the maiden speech from my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford today. They did not vote for us for any particular reason. They voted for us because they wanted to see a bit of change, and because they wanted to feel that they were special. We should not see them as pawns to be exploited in pursuit of one particular political objective. We need to ensure that we represent them. They may have lent us their vote, but they deserve our full attention. William Hague said in The Daily Telegraph today that the lockdown would cause an era of “inequality” and “social tension”, and we now have an obligation to bring about not just the economic recovery from coronavirus but the social recovery too. What the Secretary of State has put forward today is the first step in that direction.