Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 6:01 pm, 16th June 2020

I am pleased that the Government have scrapped their active pursuit of a policy direction that would have seen 3 million children go hungry this summer, but it should not have had to take the powerful, heartfelt and game-changing intervention of Marcus Rashford to get to this point. The anxiety felt by families over the past few weeks could have been avoided had the Government acted sooner.

Clearly, when cross-party MPs signed my letter to the Secretary of State earlier this month asking for an extension of the voucher scheme, the money was there, so why has it taken until now? Even before coronavirus, children were regularly going without. Ten years of Tory Britain has seen a forceful and deliberate dismantling of the safety net that once existed to support those who, through no fault of their own, were struggling.

It is no secret that I do not trust this Government. We have a populist Prime Minister who has a habit of making sweeping announcements, such as this one today, when he knows his popularity is waning. Many of us have been here before. He lauded the holiday activities and food programme, yet this year it was predicted to reach only 4% of eligible children. He then announced £63 million of local welfare assistance, but that is not ring-fenced, so it will not be spent exclusively on free school meals.

I sincerely hope that the Minister can give us some of the detail we need about today’s announcement, because we are heading for a deep recession. This money will help us this summer, but the Government must start being honest about the drivers of food bank use and release the reports they are burying about that, and they must ensure that no child, let alone children in one of the richest countries in the world, goes hungry. Frankly, too many have already. I sincerely hope that today is a serious turning point.