I have received a number of emails and Facebook comments regarding the vote on 21st October regarding Free School Meals. Those that have been personally abusive will not be responded to (and those being abusive on Facebook will be banned). Similarly, posts simply containing links to Labour-supporting websites will be removed.
I should also note that yesterday's Labour motion would have had no effect in law. 'Opposition day' votes, when Labour get to choose the subject for debate, cannot change policy and are designed purely and simply to stir up a storm of public protest against the government.
However a number of people have understandably sincerely enquired as to the reasons for the Government's policy and my vote, and I set these out below.
Free School Meals are intended to support pupils while they are learning. During the holidays I believe in parental responsibility - but I also believe in a strong safety net for families who may be struggling, especially at this time.
And that's exactly why we have done all of the following during the pandemic:
- increased Universal Credit by £20 per week – over £1,000 per year
- increased Local Housing Allowance and provided £180 million for discretionary housing payments to help people with their rent
- created a £63m local welfare assistance fund for councils to help those in financial difficullty
- provided £16m for food charities, such as FareShare Midlands, which I visited during the summer: https://www.facebook.com/faresharemidlands/posts/3579879598710737
For 100 years, free school meals have been given to children on low incomes. They are, as the name suggests, available in the school day. They have never extended to the weekends or the school holidays.
This year, because schools were closed in the summer term and parents suddenly had to provide an extra meal five days a week, the government agreed to give the families of children entitled to free school meals supermarket vouchers instead.
In the debate yesterday Labour were unable to say when they thought the scheme should end. Should it run over Christmas? Next half term, the Easter holidays, next summer? The logic of Labour’s motion - hardly denied by them - is that the government should give supermarket vouchers to families on benefits forever.
I believe it is more sensible that we support families in need through the benefits system, and that is exactly what this Government has done.