Over recent days there has been a lot of discussion about extending the provision of free school meals during school holidays such as this half term, therefore I felt it important for me to clarify the situation for you.
Firstly, last Wednesday’s debate in Parliament was an ‘Opposition Day Debate’ – it was not legislation and votes on such debates are never binding. It is, as it says, a debate and has no impact on Government policy.
Indeed, should there have been a majority vote in favour of the motion, I do question how the provision of school meals during the holiday could have been organised with just 24 or 48 hours notice. This was just a political stunt by the Labour Party without any substance or understanding of the planning required to deliver on their demands.
I have listened to many who have told me of their experiences of free school meals and the stigma that comes with it. Schools, by and large, have been able to introduce systems so it is not obvious who is receiving the free meals to prevent stigmatisation and bullying. I do not believe that any effort had been put into Labour’s plans to prevent this happening during holiday periods.
The Government is determined to support the most vulnerable in society, children and adults alike. Free school meals are a very blunt instrument and there are far better and effective mechanisms to ensure those who need the help, get it.
At the beginning of June, for the period up to the end of October, the Government allocated £63 million to local authorities to support families who really needed the extra support. This targeted approach is far more effective than a one-size fits all, advocated by opposition MPs.
As the authority with responsibility for children and young people, Derbyshire County Council was allocated over £808,000.00 for this purpose. I know great work has been carried out with this additional funding to support the most vulnerable families in Derbyshire, including a good number in Erewash.
I have also been informed by the Leader of Derbyshire County Council that ahead of this week’s half term holiday, the Council contacted the 400+ schools across Derbyshire offering to provide one- and two-week food boxes for children usually in receipt of free school meals.
No secondary school parent took up this offer and parents from just eleven primary schools did. To me, this shows that providing school meals outside of the school environment is not the way to address the issue.
At the start of the pandemic, the Government took extraordinary measures to ensure families on low incomes were supported, including a £9.3 billion boost to our welfare system. As part of this, Universal Credit has been increased by £1000.00 this year.
In addition, the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, with £9 million backing, helped around 50,000 disadvantaged children with free healthy meals and enriching activities through the summer. The Breakfast Club scheme was also extended over the summer holidays which I know was appreciated by those who benefited. I believe that extending such holiday activities such as these is far more effective and will play an important part in helping the most vulnerable families in Erewash and aid the Government’s important levelling up agenda.
I am sure you will now appreciate that I am fully supportive of helping families across Erewash and will continue to back the Government’s agenda to provide targeted and effective support for those most in need.
With best wishes,
Maggie Throup MP - Member of Parliament for Erewash