I have seen inaccurate posts stating I voted to stop Free School Meals (FSM). This is completely untrue.
The vote last night in Parliament was an Opposition Day debate motion to extend free school meals into the school holidays. The vote was NOT about ending FSM entirely, as some are tying to suggest.
The fact is that Free School Meals have never been provided during the school holidays under any government prior to Easter 2020.
The Labour Party have criticised us for this, but in their 13 years in power, they didn’t spend a penny on school holiday vouchers for families - including in the 2008 crash. Where in contrast, we have supported families through Easter and the Summer holidays.
Due to schools being closed during lockdown, just before Easter, we transferred the concept of Free School Meals to the home, fully funding the costs of a National Voucher Scheme for those eligible for Free School Meals, and kept this running over Easter and Summer holidays, given schools were closed up to that time for most pupils. In total, £380 million of vouchers have been redeemed in supermarkets since we introduced them.
This autumn, the situation is totally different. 99% of schools are open and students are benefiting from FSM during term time as normal.
This Government has actually extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes like breakfast clubs and introduced spending on holiday clubs, as the summer holiday can be hard on parents and carers financially.
Since the start of Coronavirus, we have added £9.3 billion to the welfare system. This has allowed us to:
Increase Universal Credit by £1,040 a year
Increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180 million fund to help struggling families with their rent
Create a £63 million fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance
Award £16 million to food charities
Add in the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) which ends at the end of October and many others measures, this Government has spent over £200 billion since March 2020 to help people, businesses, schools, the NHS and many other institutions.
We know from our holiday activity clubs and food schemes that some families do need extra support especially in the long summer holiday - but it is not all children on free school meals. We must therefore target support to those that need it most. That is why the £63 million for Local Authorities to target the vulnerable was done and has been praised by the Trussell Trust.
Tackling food inequality and child hunger is not simple. It’s deeply complex and I will work with local charities, schools and with politicians from all political party’s to find some real long term solutions.
I want to improve the educational outcomes and destinations of our young people, see high skilled and high wage jobs that are going to be part of the future economy (technology), build better homes and improve our connectivity with better public transport so we can unlock our potential and ensure a brighter future for all.