Whether she has had recent discussions with her counterparts in the devolved Administrations on financial support for (a) school and (b) higher education students in the context of increases in the cost of living.
This is a timely question, as just last Thursday I met representatives from across the UK to discuss that very topic. In England, we have put in place significant support to help students and families alike with the cost of living. This year alone, the Government will spend around £37 billion on cost of living support. We provide free school meals to more than one third of children in education and we have boosted our student premium this year, spending £276 million.
Expanding free school meals to all children in universal credit households is not controversial. New data from the Food Foundation shows that 80% of the English general public support it. The Scottish Government have already committed to providing universal free school meals for all primary children. Why is the Secretary of State’s Department fuelling the poverty cycle and failing to give deprived children the very best start in life?
I take my role of giving children the very best start in life incredibly seriously. This Government spend more than £1 billion annually delivering free school meals to pupils in schools. More than one third of pupils in schools in England receive a free meal, which, incidentally, compares with one sixth under Labour in 2010. We must also ensure that students are supported in school holidays; that is why we have introduced the holiday activities and food programme.
I welcomed my right hon. Friend’s announcement in January that tuition fees would be frozen for the sixth year in a row. That is welcome news for students and the country. Does she agree that that will deliver better value for students and rightly keep down the cost of higher education across the United Kingdom?
We are always committed to ensuring that students get good value for money, that they have a valuable experience at university and that they get the qualifications they need for the future. In addition to keeping tuition fees flat, we have introduced and boosted degree apprenticeships—as my right hon. Friend knows, I am a huge fan of those—where, if people want to earn and learn, they can get their degrees paid for by their apprenticeship.