Before the Prime Minister’s U-turn, Minister after Minister told us, “We don’t normally fund free school meals outside term time.” Well, we do not normally furlough 9 million workers. We do not normally ask people to isolate, distance and bubble. We do not normally close down schools in the middle of the school year. Nothing has been normal since March. This pandemic has required an extraordinary response from the party of small government and an extraordinary response from society.
This enforced U-turn—we remember the Order Paper, just hours ago—is a victory for children and a victory for common sense. But we cannot be in denial about the economic fallout from covid-19. This is only just the beginning, and it comes on top of 10 years of austerity. We cannot be in denial about the impact that this will have on the poorest in our society: the economic effect of the virus is pushing more families into poverty, and more children will go hungry, from Palacefields to Leftwich in my constituency.
As my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey pointed out, the IPPR estimates that 200,000 more children will now fall below the poverty line and are at risk of hunger. This is not the time for a small state—it is the time for Government to get on their side, surely. In the long term, we need to look at the extraordinary number of children who are living in poverty in this country. We need to work hard to stop child poverty at its roots, rather than treating its worst symptoms or coming out with ideological claptrap and stereotypes. Hunger does not understand term dates. It does not understand ideological nonsense. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all worked together, grew up a little and ended child and food poverty once and for all?