Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:14 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 8:14 pm, 18th January 2021

In the north-west, a quarter of a million children qualify for free school meals. Nearly 6,500 of those children live in my constituency. To put that in perspective, more children are claiming free school meals in Manchester, Gorton than in the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Education combined. It is no wonder then that the Government continually fail to comprehend the reality of life for children and families who rely on free school meals.

Schools, food banks, mutual aid groups and my constituents have helped throughout this difficult month. I am incredibly grateful to every single person involved. I must also thank Marcus Rashford for his tireless work through the crisis. I am sure that he knows this already, but Manchester is immensely proud of him.

For families struggling to make ends meet, free school meals are a lifeline. Yet, once again, we are having to persuade the Government to continue that support through the school holidays. Without free school meals, half-term would be devastating for the 6,327 children in my constituency who, without this support, would otherwise go hungry.

The link between poverty and digital exclusion is clear: if people are poor, they have less chance of being online. For children this year, that has meant missing out on vital learning. I have spoken with headteachers across my constituency, who say that they are desperate for digital devices for pupils. Not a single one I spoke to said that enough devices had been received for all the children who need one. Sadly, children growing up in poverty are once again being abandoned by this Government. They are left to go without schooling and without food.

If the Government wanted to, they could change that overnight by extending the provision of free school meals over the upcoming half-term, introducing a cash-payment system for parents while schools are closed, and rapidly upscaling the delivery of digital devices to those schools that need them. I hope they will do so soon. Until then, I will continue to be a voice for the poorest and most in need in my constituency.