Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 9:27 pm, 18th January 2021

May I put on record my thanks to the hard-working teachers, headteachers and school staff of Darlington for their tireless efforts in keeping going during what has been the most difficult year they will ever have faced? We were all shocked by the images of the substandard food packages that circulated last week, which were not acceptable on any level.

I also record my thanks to Conservative-controlled Darlington Borough Council, which has done so much with the funds from Government to support people, such as investing in additional vehicles to work with the Bread and Butter Thing, a food redistribution scheme that I have been privileged to support. It has diverted 180 tonnes of food from landfill, delivered 250,000 meals and been supported by more than 2,500 hours of volunteering.

From the £170 million covid winter grant that Darlington received, £364,000 has enabled the council to ensure that every child eligible for free school meals was fed over Christmas and will continue to be fed over the half-term holidays. The Government’s innovative holiday activities and food programme, which is being rolled out across the country this Easter, will continue to ensure that no child goes hungry, and that they can also engage in enriching activities. The Opposition wish to drive a divisive agenda, feeding a narrative that it is only they who care—a narrative that fuels the hateful campaigns seen by many of us on the Government Benches. Kinder, gentler politics it is not.

We all know that children learn best when they are at school, but for many it is not possible, and it is wonderful to see the schemes that have been brought forward by the Government to step up the delivery of devices. In Darlington, more than 70% of the devices requested by schools have already arrived and are being used. Darlington’s secondary schools have received all of what they asked for, and it is right that examination-level students have taken priority. The picture among primary schools is still emerging. I have written to the Minister in that regard, and I thank her for her engagement with me on that. I know that devices are continuing to arrive as quickly as they can be delivered.

This Government’s commitment to delivering one of the world’s largest programmes of technology is remarkable, and they deserve credit for making such a huge commitment to our children, the benefit of which will continue into the future. When the chips were down, this Government have stepped in, putting food on the plates of our children so they do not go hungry and equipment in their hands to ensure they can continue to learn. That was the right thing to do. Tonight we have seen Labour play its games and drive division, and already it is pushing its hateful posts in every seat it lost in the north. It is clear that it will never learn.