Holiday Hunger Schemes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:56 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 3:56 pm, 6th November 2018

I did not realise that we had any Liberal Democrats in the room. That is the old cry of, “This is the problem and they are to blame for it”, without the Scottish National party’s taking any responsibility, despite its control over lots of levers of power, which is important.

As has been pointed out, more than 3 million children were at risk of hunger during the school holidays this summer because they were not getting their term-time free school meals. That is shameful. At the heart of the debate is the impact of the Government’s eight years of unrelenting and indiscriminate austerity. Universal credit is failing in many of our constituencies, and the urgent question on it the other day was really interesting. There should be preferential options for the poor when we make public policy in our country, and universal credit should have a preferential option for those who are in the poverty of having mental health problems. Its impact on those people causes much stress and tips them over the edge.

More than 4 million children are growing up in poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North made an absolutely fantastic point on inequality, which I see in my constituency and other Members see in theirs. In some schools, 40% of children are not school-ready—they do not know about reciprocity or play or how to hold cutlery or pens, which my hon. Friend mentioned—but in others in my constituency, that figure is up to 80%, and growing, because of the austerity of the last few years.

More than 1 million people now go to food banks, and the situation is predicted to get worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the number of children living in poverty is likely to soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years. Government Members should hang their heads in shame that families in that situation cannot afford to feed their children in the school holidays.

It is interesting how, in our city, Mr Stringer, schools compete over which of our two great teams runs their holiday club. Schools generally choose the team that provides the most free school meals, because that is what some of our schools desperately need. The football clubs are having to look at this in their summer holiday provision in our cities.