Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

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

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

Absolutely. I think all of us experienced the chaos that was around when the scheme began. Many teachers who contacted me were pulling their hair out. Many schools spent a lot of money—as did local authorities—to ensure that food parcels were available until the voucher schemes were up and running. There were very many issues with them.

There are those who say that civil society should do this work and that the food bank system is an example of how lucky we are to have an engaged society, but one of the first things that happened when covid struck was that the entire food bank structure in my area had to close down because it was managed mainly by people who are in the older categories who then had to shield for their own wellbeing. The local authority then had to take on a lot of the central distribution of the food bank structures that had grown up to feed thousands of children in Wallasey every summer.

The Government need to pay great attention to how much support they give to the structures that are there to ensure that something as basic as access to food is available for the most vulnerable children. It means, of course, that those children can study and learn, and get a better chance than they would otherwise have had if they were wondering where their next meal would come from. The covid-19 crisis has shone a not very flattering light on the plummeting levels of social justice we have seen in this country throughout the years of austerity. It has shone an unflattering light on the edge that many of our fellow citizens live on, whether they are in zero-hours contracts, in precarious work, only just able to manage, without access to savings, or only one wage away from disaster. It is an issue for all of us to think about how this can be improved, but it is particularly for the Government to ensure that they tackle it, given that they are in power for the next four years.

I welcome the U-turn, and I would welcome it even more if the Government recognised that there was an issue and dealt with it more proactively, rather than being forced, by the fantastic and magnificent campaigning of Marcus Rashford, to U-turn at the last minute.