As I said in my statement on Free School Meals below, I believe the best way to target support for vulnerable children is if this support is provided by Local Authorities rather than schools. Local authorities have existing mechanisms to provide this support in a way that suits the needs of their community and reaches those who are not at school. I also confirmed I wrote to the Government to suggest that the £63m Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant for Food and Essential Supplies was increased and continued over winter.
I am therefore pleased that the Government has announced a new winter package to provide further support for children and families. This includes:
- £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme for Local Authorities to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter
- Holiday Activities and Food programme to be expanded, covering Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021 and costing £220m.
- Healthy Start payments set to rise from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021
- Additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities.
You can read more about this support here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-winter-package-to-provide-further-support-for-children-and-families
Sunday 25 October 2020
On Wednesday the House of Commons rejected a Labour Opposition Day motion on Free School Meals and voted in favour of the amended motion below. I thought it would be helpful if I set out my full reasons for voting for the amended motion.
An Opposition Day in the House of Commons gives the Opposition Party a chance to put forward motions for a vote. However, these motions do not have any force in law and are therefore used to make political points. Even if the Labour motion were passed nothing would have changed in law.
Labour’s motion called for Free School Meals to be provided over the school holidays until Easter 2021.
However, this approach is not the only nor the best way to tackle child poverty now that schools are open. Traditionally educational establishments do not undertake the functions of social care. If one were to provide free schools meals on a permanent basis then we would have to reassess the role of schools. This approach would create extra work for teachers and school staff and fails to support any child who has not yet started school.
In my view it is best if this direct support is provided by Local Authorities. Many local authorities have existing mechanisms to provide this support in a way that suits the needs of their community. This includes provision of cash payments, food vouchers, or alternative means of support.
This is why the Government in June provided an additional £63 million be distributed to local authorities in England to help those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to coronavirus. I have written to the Government to suggest this fund is increased and continued.
In addition to this support, the Government have added over £9 billion to the welfare system. Universal Credit has been increased by £1,000 per year, and £180 million has also been allocated to support families struggling with their rent. I have also supported £16 million being awarded to food charities.
Furthermore, Merton Council has received over £14 million in additional funding over the course of the pandemic, including an extra £2.4 million this week. I am pleased this has support has been provided and should allow the Council to support school children during half term.
Of course, I do not wish to see any child go hungry and have tried always to act compassionately. The amendment I voted for sets out the help, much of it put in place due to the pandemic, which has been made available.
Throughout this pandemic I have been arguing in the House of Commons for more support for those people and businesses who need it most and have been most affected. I will continue to do this as restrictions continue.
The amended motion
This House notes that schools are now fully operational following the covid-19 outbreak, and will continue to offer free school meals in term time; welcomes the substantial support provided by the Government to children worth £550 million annually; further welcomes that this support has been bolstered by almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments; notes that eligible families have also been supported throughout lockdown through the receipt of meal vouchers worth £380 million while schools were partially closed, alongside the Holiday Activities and Food Fund; and further supports the Government in its ongoing activities to help the most vulnerable children in society.