Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:11 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South 8:11 pm, 18th January 2021

In the interests of trying to get on to more people on the speakers list, I will try to be brief. However, I will do so without the toxicity, party rhetoric and empty claims from Opposition Members.

What we do need and what I do welcome is a much more holistic approach to a food strategy moving forward. So while I did vote against the Government previously on the topic of free school meals, I was pleased—as were Opposition Members, as were the teaching unions—when the covid winter support scheme came through and when the holiday activities support scheme came forward. This actually will make a serious and meaningful change to the lives of our young people.

As we heard from the Secretary of State, over 700,000 devices have been delivered, and that should be applauded. Yes, we all want more to be delivered. However, we do need to wait for some of these laptops and devices to actually be manufactured. We have bought the capacity for the manufacturing to be proceeded with as quickly as possible. However, we cannot give devices that have not actually been built. Yes, I would like to go further and say that maybe we should devolve the budget to schools so that they can try to use their own procurement methods and perhaps find a more local solution, and I would urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to see if that is an option. However, we are limited to the manufacture, and I do applaud what we have done so far.

On school meals, we have heard from Opposition Members that now children all of a sudden will be going starving in the February half-term. However, their own union members welcomed the commitment back in November, saying the

“£170m channelled via local authorities to the end of March appears to address the immediate need to ensure that children do not go hungry over the Christmas and February half-term holidays.”

So I ask: if it was welcome back in November, why is it not welcome now?

I would also like to echo my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon when he was calling for a wider view to be taken about the sugary drinks levy and the School Breakfast Bill in the name of Mrs Lewell-Buck, which I am proud to be a sponsor of. I think that, if we are to take a wider view as to how we tackle not only at school and children hunger, but the attainment gap, this has to be something that we explore and explore meaningfully to try to tackle these problems.

When we look at the issue of laptops, on even my own Labour council, the deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for education has said there is no issue with laptops locally. With that in mind, I would like to thank the Department for what it has done. Yes, we could do more, and yes, we could try to get things quicker, but this is similar to the vaccine: it is a matter of supply, not of being able actually to deliver.