Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:39 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (International Development) 9:39 pm, 18th January 2021

The provision of home schooling is really important, because in the lockdown last year we saw that education provision for those in the private sector was very different from that for those in state schools. We all know that the state school budget is a bare minimum, and the schools were not able to respond to the crisis properly.

The Office for National Statistics reports that 700,000 11 to 18-year-olds had no home internet access from a suitable device, and 68% said that they could not do their work without it. For some reason, last year the Government decided to cut the allocation of laptops by 80%. They have now found another £100 million to get more laptops, but we know that £135 million is required.

Last year, when Scotland used predicted grades for exam results, the Government caused another problem that affected poor people and students in state schools by insisting on using the algorithm. Many constituents rang me about their futures, crying their hearts out, and although the Government did a U-turn, it was too late for some of them.

Now the Government have cancelled GCSEs and A-levels, which I welcome. However, no decision has been made on the BTEC, which about 1 million students will be taking. My local community college principal, Bill Webster, contacted me to ask what he should be doing. In the end, he decided to cancel the BTEC. I have to say, I agree with him. Frankly, the lack of preparation by the Government is unacceptable.

On food provision, since 2010 in my constituency child poverty has gone up from 25% to 39%. That is unacceptable, bearing in mind that we are the fifth largest economy in the world. Recently, we saw those food packages—£5-worth of food from a company given £30. It is not surprising that the company is linked to the Tory party. We have also had countless PPE procurement scandals from using the VIP lane without scrutiny. I ask the Government why track and trace was given not to local authorities, but to Serco, whose bosses are connected with the Conservative party.

A number of Conservative Members have said that we in the Labour party are making a party political point. We are not. The fact is that the children who are suffering the most tend to be in our constituencies, and this Government have not bothered about them. The Government should provide decent food and decent education.