Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 16th June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 5:18 pm, 16th June 2020

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. I would like to compliment my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey for calling our Opposition day debate on this issue and forcing the Government to confront their inexplicable decision to abandon the programme of food support over the summer. I welcome the U-turn, although it would have been very difficult to learn from the Secretary of State’s contribution that there had been a U-turn at all. It was almost as though the Government were always going to do this. However, it took a huge campaign to achieve it, and I for one welcome the fact that the Government have conceded that the school voucher scheme will go on over this summer. I also agree with the comments that this kind of ad hoc approach is not a good enough way of tackling the issue of holiday hunger.

We know that, as Opposition Members have said, this has been caused by problems in our labour market: low pay, precarious work, and, due to a period of austerity, benefits not being good or generous enough to supply people with the basics. We also know that that hits the most vulnerable. We know that 200,000 children have skipped meals during the lockdown. We know that child poverty has increased since 2010. We know that seven out of 10 of those in poverty are in work. We know from the Trussell Trust that there was an 89% increase in the need for emergency food parcels in April. We know that there has been a 107% increase in parcels given to children. In my own constituency of Wallasey, 3,910 students were eligible for the voucher scheme. Having had a look at the increase in unemployment since March of 1,880, I know that that will be going up. There is extreme pressure.

I talked to a lot of my schools who have been dealing with this issue. Many of them say the same thing: that the food voucher scheme has helped to reduce financial and mental anxiety during the difficult times caused by the lockdown and covid; that vouchers to purchase food at least ensure that people do not have to worry about the basic requirement of being able to feed their families; and that without the Government making this concession children would undoubtedly have gone hungry, resulting in intolerable strain and collapse in our communities.