Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:49 pm, 16th June 2020

The hon. Gentleman is right: we must all thank Marcus Rashford for his campaign and his letter, and I will do so.

I want to point out that this is only one piece of a wide network of support that we have ensured is in place for vulnerable children at this time. We have invested in support for adoptive families and foster carers. We have prioritised care leavers and families of children with disabilities. We have supported those who have been excluded from school and kept schools open for those children who need schools to keep them safe. I would like to thank all those who work in schools, the education system and care, our social workers and everyone across the country who works to support vulnerable children.

As many Members have said, getting all children and young people back into school as quickly as possible is a vital next step because of the important role that education plays in all children’s life—especially those children who face disadvantage. It is right that we all thank Marcus Rashford for his letter. I would like to thank him for his letter, and I especially thank him for the work that he has done with FareShare to provide food support. The Government have also invested £16 million in food support through frontline food charities, including FareShare.

Marcus tells a heart-wrenching story of his early childhood. It is right that low-income families should be prioritised for support at a difficult time. He points out in his letter that his experience happened 10 years ago. Since then, the Government have introduced the national living wage, increased wages and reduced taxes for those on the lowest incomes, so that they have more money in their pockets. The lowest-paid working full time could, in real terms, be better off by over £5,000 than they would have been back in 2010.

But we know that this summer is exceptional. It will be a very difficult time for many families. As well as ensuring that vulnerable children are safe at this time and that their learning is supported as much as possible, we have ensured that those who are eligible for free school meals can access food via either local arrangements provided by their schools or our voucher scheme. I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith, who gave a shout-out to the breakfast clubs Magic Breakfast and Family Action, which have supported so many.

Siobhain McDonagh raised an important point on the attainment gap—the difference between the educational attainment of those from a more disadvantaged background and that of their peers. The good news is that over the past decade, that attainment gap has narrowed at every single stage of education. But we know that it risks widening now, which is why we are committed to a long-term, sustained programme of catch-up, to close that gap again—and we will always focus on the disadvantaged first.

Let me be clear: giving families a voucher—

Mr Nicholas Brown claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question put and agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
welcomes the Government’s decision to provide schools with their expected funding to cover benefits-related free school meals including the national voucher scheme over the Easter and May half-term holidays;
notes the decision of the Welsh Government to guarantee each eligible child the equivalent of £19.50 a week up until the end of August to cover their meals over the summer holidays;
and calls on the Government to continue to directly fund provision of free school meals, including the free school meal voucher scheme for eligible children over the summer holidays to stop children going hungry during this crisis.

Sitting suspended.