Although I had hoped to speak in this evening’s debate on support to the poorest in our communities, I wasn’t called to speak, however, here is what I would have said:
The correlation drawn between the two debates this evening, shows how Labour recognises the sheer depth of poverty that blights families and communities in our constituencies, while this intransigent Tory Government fails to even provide sufficient money for the poorest to survive on.
With Council Tax rising by, on average, £90, and Universal Credit slashed by £20 a week it is yet again the poor that is being forced to make impossible choices; but when the consequences of these choices mean that children have insufficient food in their bellies, it spells out the harsh consequences of Tory Government policy.
The Chancellor’s continued failure to get a grip of growing inequality, means more and more families face hardship.
It is hard to stomach why this Government doesn’t recognise that children need good nutritious food. Without it, children find it hard to learn, hard to concentrate, hard to sleep, hard to reach their attainment and are placed on that trajectory of inequality.
So first, can the Minister tell me, why a child should be fed during term time and not school holidays. I am sure he will eat during both. He knows that the Covid Winter Grant Scheme was neither set up to fund school meals nor can stretch that far. He has a month to sort this out – U-turn 1.
Second can he explain why these private providers of food packs are stealing from the lunch packs of children to feed their shareholders and profit lines, when children are left malnourished?
This is not just a scandal, it exposes the priorities of Government.
I call for U-turn no.2 – simple and easy to administer – a cash transfer of £15 per child – no wastage on stigmatising vouchers, companies creaming off extra for themselves with inadequate food packs – just empowering parents to meet the needs of their children, which is what parents do.
While 200,000 children skipped meals in lockdown 1 according to the Food Foundation, I know from surgeries, it is often not the child alone that will go hungry, but parents will skip a meal to feed their child. This isn’t right either.
I want to put on record my thanks to York schools for ensuring that children are fed and family needs are met. I know that many schools are going further for those that don’t qualify for free school meals, funding food, working with York’s foodbanks, Fairshare and others to feed York’s families.
But Labour in York are asking for more. We call for every child in our city to be in receipt of at least one hot, nutritious meal every day as we don’t want to do the minimum but do what is best for our children.
We need a new #RightToFood, to ensure that every child, adult and older person is fed properly. With knowledge that nutrition impacts on our complete physical and mental wellbeing, we should be exploring if the provision of school lunches, as a universal health and wellbeing measure should be provided. It was for this reason that Labour committed to free school meals for all primary aged children at the last election.
With the current inadequacy, the Government should, as the very least, audit the quality and quality of food provision and where failure occurs, contracts should be withdrawn and companies should penalty served. It is the inadequacy of Government, yet again, in only providing ‘guidance’ in such matters that has led to this latest scandal.
According to the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition 3 million people in the UK are malnourished, 1.3 million of which are over 65 (and the APPG for Ageing and Older People, which I chair, will be conducting an inquiry into this next month), but equally, failure to secure nutritious free school meals to the 1.4m children in need, means that children are growing up without good nutrition and diet-related diseases are returning.
Reinvestment in Children Centres can assist families in balancing tight budgets and nutritious meals well.
And where families don’t have facilities to cook, voluntary sector and mutual aid groups have stepped in, like York’s ‘supper collective’, so no-one is denied a decent meal.
Let’s face the facts. Labour would feed the nation’s children. While the Tories seek every excuse not to, but eventually, it has to u-turn to the tide of public opinion. I ask them to heed the need now and properly feed all in need.