The vote held last week was the result of an Opposition Day Motion from the Labour Party; and as usual they have been playing political games and virtue signalling. This motion was non-binding and something that all parties in opposition put forward when in Opposition.
Labour’s motion had no reference to the length of time their scheme would last, how it would be funded or implemented. My concern is that untargeted support, as Labour proposed, will not be specifically given to those that need it most. Many families can afford to feed their children outside of term time and untargeted blanket support will take away from the most needy.
I do not want to see vulnerable children go hungry, especially during these difficult times. Myself and my Northamptonshire MP colleagues have held numerous meetings with Northamptonshire County Council about providing the extra support for families that are struggling over half-term and indeed the Christmas holidays. NNC have committed to provide Free School Meal (FSM) vouchers for families across Northamptonshire during the holidays from a £8M Government grant. This money was provided to lend targeted support for vulnerable families during the Covid-19 pandemic and this includes FSMs.
This Government has been committed to deploying help wherever it is needed in a targeted and effective way. In reality the Government has extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes like breakfast clubs.
Since the start of Coronavirus, the Government has added an eyewatering £9.3 billion extra to the welfare system. This is aimed at helping the most vulnerable. This has allowed us to:
• Increase Universal Credit by £1,000/year
• Increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180m fund to help struggling families with their rent
• Create a £63m fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance
• Award £16m to food charities
This is all money that is going to families who are in need. However, it is important to remember that free school meals are not a general welfare measure. They are aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability. Fundamentally, it shouldn’t be up to schools to provide meals for children indefinitely during the holidays and it’s right that we use the tools in place to help parents put food on the table.
The Government also extended free school meals over the summer holiday this year because most children had not been in school since March and families had been meeting the extra costs of this.
This autumn, the situation is markedly different. 99% of children are back in school and have therefore been benefiting from free school meals during term as normal. In total, £380 million of vouchers have been redeemed in supermarkets since we introduced them. Before March, vouchers for Free School Meals have never been issued outside of term time - it has always been a parents responsibility to feed their child when not at school.
The Labour Party has criticised us for this, but in their 13 years in power, they didn’t spend a penny on school-holiday vouchers for families - including during the 2008 financial crash. In contrast, we have supported families through Easter and the Summer holidays.
I have also received correspondence about myself claiming a lunch allowance. I want to be clear that MPs do not receive a daily £25 lunch allowance as many people have claimed. This is simply untrue. Since my election, I have never claimed for food or drink either in Westminster or the constituency.