Following concerns raised by parents, headteachers and school governors, Sharon secured a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in the North East and the Government's inaction to support schools in the region.
Read the full debate on Hansard here.
You can read Sharon's opening speech below.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered school funding in the north-east of England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts. I am very pleased to have secured this important debate, albeit on the second last day that Parliament is sitting in this Session. I know the subject of the debate has made many of my constituents very concerned, as well as those of my fellow MPs from across the north-east who, I am pleased to say, are in attendance today in some numbers and those who unfortunately could not be here. They include my fellow Sunderland MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson). My right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who has raised concerns with the Minister following a meeting he had with headteachers in his area, is also concerned about the effect on his constituency. He asked me to convey his apologies, as he really wanted to be here but had to be elsewhere.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who has done a lot of work over recent months to raise awareness of our collective concerns about the Government’s negligent approach to schools in our region. I have to add, Mr Betts, that he will be sorely missed when he steps down from this place next week, both by us, his regional colleagues, and, I know, his constituents. I am thrilled to see him in his place today.
Labour Members are passionate advocates for the education of children and young people. It is safe to say that “Education, education, education” is a mantra that we still believe in, yet sadly we have seen this Government ride roughshod over our education system and our local schools, by putting them in an unprecedented position. The Government have not only failed to support our schools; they have made cuts that are fundamentally detrimental to the very viability of some schools.
In my contribution this morning, I will set out why that approach to education is so damaging and why there must be an urgent rethink by Ministers. To do this, I will look at three areas: the national situation; how it is affecting schools in my constituency and the north-east; and, finally, how that approach to our education system is affecting the very nature of our schools, whose purpose is to educate our children and address societal issues, such as child poverty and social mobility.
Before I even get to the crux of why I called this debate, perhaps I can already predict what the Minister will say in response. He will probably say, as the Prime Minister said just a few weeks ago, that this Government have protected the schools budget. However, he knows as well as I do that that is not actually the case, because the real issue is the failure to recognise that our schools are facing real-terms cuts, not cash cuts. It is deeply disingenuous of the Government to say that they have protected school budgets. I suppose it is like the Government paying public sector workers the same as they paid them seven years ago and then saying that they have protected their salaries. Oh, hang on a minute—they have done that as well.
These real-terms cuts are mainly down to inflation, but also four other things: the increases in the cost of employers’ contribution to national insurance and pensions; the abolition of the education services grant to local authorities and academies, which has reduced funding by £600 million; the cost of annual pay awards to teachers, which is set to increase by 4.4% by 2020; and, finally, the impact that the apprenticeship levy will have on maintained schools that take on apprentices. Much of this would not be a problem if the Government were not overseeing static funding for our schools, whereby these real-terms cuts now range from between 6.5% and 8%.
On top of all this, there are growing concerns about what the new schools funding formula will do to schools’ budgets and to staff retention and the schools estate, which is in dire need of an uplift. We might easily come to the conclusion that what we are seeing is the complete mismanagement and neglect of our education system—a perfect storm, if you like.
Instead of coming to terms with those issues, we have seen this Government shove their heads in the sand and carry on regardless, ignoring what many in society—from MPs across the House to teachers and parents themselves—are calling for, which is support for our education system to ensure that our children succeed in life. As the Public Accounts Committee recently stated in its report on school cuts,
“the Government does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under.”
I completely agree with that, and I feel frustrated that Ministers are continually ignoring the concerns of a wide cross-section of society on this matter.
School leaders, who know their budgets the most, were surveyed by the National Association of Head Teachers, with 72% saying that their budgets will be untenable by 2019-20. That is not surprising when the National Audit Office has set out that the Department for Education expects schools to make £3 billion of savings a year by 2019-20. It is safe to say that this £3 billion cut—which is what it is, rather than a saving—as well as the funding pressures that schools face and the lack of action to support them through all these difficulties, is leading to headteachers having to make impossible decisions, some of which will ultimately impact negatively on pupils and their education, and all because of what the Minister is doing, or not doing, as the case may be.
This sorry state of affairs that our schools find themselves in is nothing to do with efficiencies; it is all about impoverishing our schools. Shamefully, this approach will hit children living in the poorest areas the most, such as in parts of my constituency and those of my fellow north-east MPs from across the House. We all have deprived communities in our constituencies. That means that more and more children will be held back in life, when we should be supporting them to achieve social mobility and to achieve their full potential.
As I stated at the beginning of my contribution, I know that this is an issue that many of my constituents and teachers in my constituency are concerned about. That is not surprising, when the total budget cuts by 2019 across the city of Sunderland are expected to be over £16 million, which means an average cut of £470 in per-pupil spend and a loss of 439 teachers across the borough of Sunderland.
In my constituency, the worst hit school is Rickleton Primary School, which will see a budget cut of nearly £150,000. That is well above the average cut for primary schools nationally, which is estimated at around £103,000, which is still a huge cut. The headteacher of Rickleton Primary School, Mr Lofthouse, set out clearly in an email to me, which I have sent on to the Secretary of State for Education, what those funding pressures will mean for his school, from potential staff redundancies to the impact on his pupils’ education, and it is not only Mr Lofthouse. Many other headteachers across Sunderland have expressed similarly grave concerns. Those concerns were reflected in a meeting I held in Sunderland recently with around 30 headteachers and school governors, who all agreed that our schools were at a crisis point. That led me to securing this debate today.
The worries of those headteachers and school governors are genuine and showed just how concerned they were for the education of the next generation. In all my 12 years as an MP, I have never been in such a meeting, with headteachers expressing concerns of such gravity. If the Minister had been at that meeting, he would have had his eyes truly opened to the extent of his actions and the gravity of the situation. One headteacher from Sunderland said that if they did not see any support from the Government for their school, it would mean losing five teachers, which would not be legal under the 30:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio. The true scale of this issue was described extremely well by another headteacher at the meeting, who said that balancing their budget had always been hard under successive Governments—they had always had to deal with cuts—but that these cuts will be impossible to achieve. She ended by saying:
“This can’t be done—no joke, not kidding or exaggerating”.
Following that meeting, a joint letter from headteachers in different parts of our region, some of which are represented by MPs who are here today, appealed to parents to make their voices heard by the Government regarding these plans. I for one am proud to stand with my local headteachers, school governors and parents who are deeply concerned about this issue and urge the Minister to rethink his disastrous plans, which will negatively affect the lives of children and young people not only in my constituency, but across the north-east and in other parts of England.
To help the Minister along, I will read an extract from that letter to parents. It will help him understand what is happening on the ground and the plight facing our schools right now. It is unprecedented for teachers from three boroughs to get together and write to parents in this way. The letter states:
“School leaders in our region have endeavoured to make every conceivable cut to our spending, but are now faced with reducing basic services still further, all to the disadvantage of your child.”
Teachers do not go into this profession to make life harder for children and to make cuts. They do it because they want to help transform the lives of all children, especially those who need extra support the most. What we are currently seeing is the exact opposite, and it is all due to this Government’s shocking failures. As someone who has campaigned during my 12 years as a Member of Parliament to improve the lives of children and young people, especially those living in poverty, I fail to see how the Government’s current actions with our education system will help to alleviate any issues of child poverty and disadvantage in our society.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate and the critical point she is making about education in deprived communities and social mobility. The school I went to, Kenton Comprehensive School, has announced that it will cut 24 staff posts, including three teacher posts. The head says that she is making every effort to ensure that that does not impact on the learning experience, but does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when we need to enhance our skills, when the future of every child depends on the education they receive, and when social mobility and social equality are such an issue, it cannot be acceptable to cut education and staff in this way?
I totally agree. As my hon. Friend knows, education is a critical way of reducing poverty in society, as it equips children and young people with the knowledge and tools to get on in life, but the best schools also inspire them to go on and achieve their dreams. That is crucial in the north-east, where an estimated 132,000 children are living in entrenched generational poverty. That is why the cuts are deeply worrying to those of us representing seats in the north-east. The children we represent do not deserve that.
It is a well known fact that poverty impacts on the attainment of children in our society. That was clearly documented in 2015, when GCSE results were analysed. It showed that 36.7% of disadvantaged pupils received five A* to C grades, compared with 64.7% of all pupils. In this country, there is a strong correlation between parental social background and children’s test scores, particularly when compared with other developed countries, where it is less so. This is compounded by the fact that children in some of England’s most disadvantaged areas are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than children living in the least deprived areas. That is why it is important that schools are used as a conduit to alleviate some of the issues that children in poverty face and to ensure that they get the best possible start in life.
Poverty is not inevitable. We do not need to see poverty in our society. What poverty tells us is that, due to a lack of political will, innovative thinking and a drive to act, we have failed as a society to address the social and economic issues that cause poverty. We have seen none of those things when it comes to school budget cuts. Instead we are seeing further social separation and division. That is seen quite plainly in the Government’s pet project, where they plan to pump millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into grammar schools and the rolling out of more free schools and academies, instead of supporting what parents and teachers are calling for, which is for their child’s current school to be funded properly. That was brought to light just today with the publication this morning of the Public Account Committee report. It called the Government’s free school policy “incoherent” and wasteful, with the Department for Education spending over the odds for schools and new free school places in areas where they were not needed, because there was not demand. Why can we not take some of this wasteful spending—the Public Account Committee is cross-party and it knows what it is talking about—and use it to mitigate the terrible funding cuts that our schools are facing?
In conclusion, for the sake of the children who live in my constituency, but also those of other MPs across the north-east, the Minister must rethink his and his Department’s approach to education without delay. Our education system should be funded fully and fairly, so that it can not only educate our children, but use its power to help improve our society. I hope the Minister will truly listen to this debate and take all our concerns into consideration, especially those of teachers and parents. Investing in education is investing in our children’s and Britain’s future. Those children in the classroom today are our future workforce. They will take our country on to greater things if we only give them the chance. Failing to support them now will be disastrous for our nation’s future and will only store up problems in later years for society as a whole. I hope the Minister understands the scale of what this all means and will go back to his officials following this debate and seriously reconsider his approach to funding our schools. Our children deserve no less.
Following concerns raised by parents, headteachers and school governors, Sharon secured a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in the North East and the Government's inaction to support schools in...
Dear voters of Washington and Sunderland West,
During my 12 years as a Member of Parliament, I have stood up for local people in our area by holding firstly the last Labour Government and more recently the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition and the current Tory Government to account, as both a backbencher and a Shadow Minister. I travel down to Westminster every week to do this and to push for changes that will benefit our community and the North East as a whole.
I hope to continue doing so and hope that I can count on your support in my re-election to continue to represent Washington and Sunderland West in Parliament.
Theresa May has laid down the gauntlet and has made this General Election about Brexit and about weakening scrutiny of her and her Party in Parliament, by wrongly claiming other political parties are trying to block Brexit from happening, when in actual fact, what we are doing is simply our democratic duty in holding this Government to account. This is a completely false accusation, as three-quarters of MPs and two-thirds of the House of Lords voted in favour of triggering Article 50 back in March and respected the will of the people.
This is all about her wanting a bigger majority to push through her right-wing ideological agenda of austerity for the UK.
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has a plan when it comes to Brexit and we will be making our case clear in the coming weeks about what our future relationship with the European Union will look like, but this General Election must also be about not letting the Tories go unchallenged on other important issues.
Our alternative case set out by Jeremy over the last few days and weeks shows a clear difference in our vision for Britain. We don’t have to endure continued Tory rule, which has seen a combination of failed economic growth for regions such as our own and deep and damaging cuts to our welfare state and public services, such as schools, our NHS and local government.
Labour have always been about standing up for working people, and Labour will use this General Election to prove this to be true and ensure we see a Labour Government elected on 8th June, that will put the people of Washington and Sunderland West first.
I hope I can count on your vote on the 8th June.
Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate for Washington and Sunderland West
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Dear voters of Washington and Sunderland West, During my 12 years as a Member of Parliament, I have stood up for local people in our area by holding firstly the...
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Mar-Apr 2017 number 94
Click on picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Mar-Apr 2017 number 94
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On Friday 7th April, Labour women MPs wrote a pamphlet for the Fabian Society commemorating the 101 Labour women elected to Parliament in Labour’s 1997 election landslide – which happened 20 years ago this year.
The pamphlet was borne out of the idea of commemorating the 1997 Labour landslide election, and looking at an array of policy issues that Labour women worked on, at the time, and since, that helped transform the country for the better.
As part of this pamphlet, Sharon Hodgson MP co-wrote a chapter with Caroline Flint MP on childcare and early years education: which has always been an area of interest for Sharon as a Member of Parliament.
During her time as a Member of Parliament, Sharon has taken a great interest in childcare and early years issues and the need to ensure this area of policy was greatly improved to support families and address child poverty in the UK, which follows on from the work started by the Labour Government elected in 1997. This includes Sharon’s work as Shadow Minister for Children and Families in the last Parliament where she helped develop Labour’s offer to the country on 25 hours of free childcare, her involvement as an officer of the Children’s Centres APPG and as a Patron of Labour Friends of Sure Start.
In the chapter, Sharon and Caroline Flint MP write about the work of the 1997 Labour Government to radically transform early years and childcare provision in the UK after years of neglect by the previous Tory Governments under Thatcher and Major, how improved childcare is important for equality and the what the challenges are for the future when it comes to childcare provision and what we can learn from the last Labour Government’s approach to this policy issue.
Sharon Hodgson MP, said:
“It was an honour to be asked to contribute to this pamphlet on what is an important policy issue for me as a Member of Parliament, which I know is something that affects many of my constituent’s lives.
“It is not a lost on many that at the last General Election, childcare was a crucial election issue for the main political parties, and this can easily be put down to Labour’s concerted and successful plans to modernise children and family policy over the last 20 years; from the introduction of universal early years education entitlement, the introduction and roll-out of Sure Start Children’s Centres and the expansion of childcare places.
“Labour’s many achievements in Government, especially on childcare and early years cannot be forgotten or left to fail with the Tories holding the levers of power, that is why this pamphlet is an important contribution to the necessary debates on where Labour goes with our offer to ensure no child is denied the best start in life to help develop our offer to families ahead of the next General Election.”
You can read 'This Woman Can' be following this link here.
On Friday 7th April, Labour women MPs wrote a pamphlet for the Fabian Society commemorating the 101 Labour women elected to Parliament in Labour’s 1997 election landslide – which happened...
In her capacity as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon has welcomed Labour's announcement on free school meals for all primary school children, and said:
“Lunchtime can often be an overlooked part of the school day; which can continue to ignore the growing problem in society where more and more children are going to school hungry and are unprepared to learn because they do not have the nutrients in them to fuel their bodies and minds.
“Many of those children must wait until lunchtime to get their free school meal, whilst some will not at all and will instead pay for their meals or opt for packed lunches which have been proven to lack any nutritional value to support a child’s learning. This policy allows for all children to reap the educational, behavioural and health benefits which come from having a hot and healthy school meal.
“Universalism is a proud tradition of the Labour Party and it is welcome that school food provision will now be a part of that important approach, continuing the important work the last Labour Government did when we introduced the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham and had a fully-costed plan to roll this out to other areas post-2010, which was sadly scrapped by the incoming Tory-led Coalition Government.
“This policy will not only allow those children who are already on free school meals to see the stigma associated with these meals eradicated, but also the two thirds of children living in poverty who are actually in working households, known as the working poor, who will benefit from free school meals when they couldn’t before because they were just above the thresholds, and all other children who will benefit from access to a healthy meal that will aid their learning and help complement the whole school approach to food that has been pushed for since the publication of the School Food Plan.
“This policy announcement provides us with the space to continue our concerted campaigning for other improvements including access to breakfast clubs which have been shown to be the most beneficial intervention to support a child’s education, child holiday hunger which was first identified 111 years ago and unmet can reverse the many positive interventions seen throughout the school year, and wider household food insecurity which is a growing issue in society. This policy announcement is to be strongly welcomed.”
Notes to Editors:
Sharon has been the Chair of the School Food APPG for 7 years, and has campaigned on universal free school meals for over 10 years.
This has included being an integral part in pushing for the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham in 2009, playing a key role in influencing the School Food Plan which recommended universal free school meals when the funding could be found in 2013, and then in 2015, to save Universal Infant Free School Meals when they were under-threat by the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan MP, in the lead-up to the 2015 Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review, when Sharon got the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to commit at the Despatch Box to protect this policy for the duration of the Parliament.
You can read more about Sharon’s campaigning journey and some of the work she has been doing on this issue, by reading these two speeches from 2010 and 2015:
Recent research by St Mary's University showed that using free school meals as a poverty indicator may not be the most accurate measure of children in poverty, as two-thirds of children living in poverty come from families with at least one parent working; therefore they are not eligible for free school meals however, this policy would be most helpful to the children of the working poor in particular as it would allow those children who do not meet the current eligibility to take advantage of free school meals. Further info available here.
In her capacity as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon has welcomed Labour's announcement on free school meals for all primary school children, and said: “Lunchtime...
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon is calling on as many party members, charities and health organisations as possible to contribute to Labour’s Health and Social Care Policy Commission consultation document, especially on public health issues.
Public health policy will play a key part in Labour’s Health and Social Care policy development with specific questions around how to address health inequalities in our society, how to support parents to improve children’s health, tackling the obesity crisis facing the country, what we can learn from devolved countries, and specific health issues facing specific groups in society, especially LGBT and BAME communities.
Recent studies found that when £1 is invested in public health, we can see an estimated £14 return on that investment – showing just how important it is to invest in our public health services, not only for the health of individuals and the nation, but also our NHS. Improving public health investment will help to see issues addressed at source rather than later downstream when treatment can be costlier and less successful.
In NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, public health and prevention was to have a radical upgrade, and in the Refresh document published in March 2017, welcome measures were announced but public health was buried in the back of the document with efficiencies and cost saving measures; rather than being one of the key measures to improve the sustainability of our NHS.
This radical upgrade has been undermined by the current Tory Government, who have cut public health spending cut by £200 million with year on year cuts in each year of this Parliament. This means public health spending is expected to fall by around £600 million.
“Ensuring effective and high-quality public health and health prevention services are crucial components to Labour’s approach to the health of our country; not only does improved public health services make our country healthier but it can support the sustainability of our NHS and how it functions.
“Evidence has shown that investment in public health can have serious benefits to our nation, yet, sadly, public health has not been supported in the way it should be by the Tories – with public health taking a back seat in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Refresh and the damaging cuts seen to public health since 2015, which are expected to continue in each year of this Parliament.
“That is why it is important that Labour hears from party members, health specialists and health organisations and charities about how we best approach public health policy, and this consultation document is perfect way to hear those views. Labour knows how important it is never to take our nation’s health for granted and it is up to us to ensure people lead healthier lives, but that future generations are healthier than the last and we have a healthy and sustainable NHS going into the future.”
To read and find out more about the Health and Social Care Policy Commission’s consultation document, follow this link: http://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/agenda-2020/commissions/health-and-social-care/npf-consultation-2017-health-and-social-care
The consultation is open until Wednesday 31st May.
You can also read a speech Sharon gave to the North East branch of the Socialist Health Association on public health to find out more about Labour’s approach to public health by following this link: http://www.sharonhodgson.org/drt/sharon_speaks_at_the_north_east_s_socialist_health_association_s_seminar_on_public_health
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon is calling on as many party members, charities and health organisations as possible to contribute to Labour’s Health and Social...
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak to LACA's East of England about her work on school food. In her speech, Sharon discussed both childhood obesity and hunger; which can be seen as two sides of the same coin; along with why school food is an important part of a wider package of policy measures to address these issues, and what more can be done to raise awareness of these issues and the working going on in schools to address both issues.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you for that introduction, Lin.
I am honoured to be invited here today by your Regional Chair, Lin O’Brien, to talk about an issue which is very close to my heart: school food.
For many years, as the Chair of the School Food APPG, I have campaigned closely with LACA on our shared vision of seeing every child sitting down at lunchtime to a hot and healthy school meal.
I have been campaigning on school food for the best part of 10 years now; after seeing the standard of school food on offer in some of my local schools, but also what it could be like after I went on a delegation to Sweden and saw how they approached their school lunchtime.
This has included campaigning for universal free school meals, which we now have in the infant stage of school; breakfast clubs; healthier packed lunches, and also; child holiday hunger.
But I am certainly not the first politician, or hopefully the last, that will hold the mantle and champion food in our schools on the green benches of the House of Commons.
The first politician to raise school food in Parliament was back in 1906, when the Labour Member of Parliament for Bradford West, Fred Jowlett, used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to launch a campaign for school meals, that is not just that they should be free to the poor but that there should be provision in schools to start with.
This was after his work on Bradford’s School Board where he witnessed malnourished children falling behind their peers and he argued in his speech that with the introduction of compulsory education, it was down to the Government to provide children with the food necessary to sustain them throughout the day. So they could learn and benefit from the education on offer.
Jowlett’s noble intervention then led to the passing of the Provision of School Meal’s Act in 1906, which established a national strategy for local authorities to provide school meals for the very first time.
I would strongly urge you to go and read the debate, if you can. It is hard to believe that it was debated in 1906, not 2017, as the same arguments for and against are rehearsed and debated today.
It Is sad really that in some ways the case has still not been fully won over 111 years later.
Setting the scene – child health inequalities
The persistent issue of child malnutrition in our society is still as pertinent today in many ways as it was in 1906.
Obesity and hunger are the two manifestations of malnutrition, and we can see them, easily, as two sides of the same coin.
On one side of the coin, we are seeing the prevalence of obesity increasing in both reception and Year 6 that would have been unheard of in 1906.
This is then compounded by the fact that children living in the most deprived areas at both the start of primary school and at the end of primary school are more than twice as likely to be obese than their peers from more affluent backgrounds.
This is all being fed by the fact that children are consuming more sugar and fat than ever before, with little or no healthy food included in their diet. This has been supported today by Public Health England with the announcement of their voluntary guidance for sugar reduction and limits.
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, less than one in ten 11 – 18 year olds get their 5-a-day, and also this survey revealed that children’s sugar intake remains at more than the double the latest government recommendation of no more than 5% of daily energy from free sugars.
Even according to the State of the Nation report by the Children’s Food Trust, they found that one in five parents say their children are eating fast food and ice cream once a week.
This is backed up by research by Cancer Research UK which found that UK consumers eat around 100 million ready meals and takeaways each week – with many of them consumed by children.
Not only does obesity have serious ramifications on the health of our children; with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer, but also it negatively impacts educational attainment, leads to lower self-esteem and negative body image.
Then on the other side of the coin we have hungry children, going to bed hungry, going to school hungry and barely eating at all in the school holidays. For these children, their free school meals, that Fred Jowlett fought so hard for, is their main source of nutrition in their lives.
It seems jarring to think that here in the UK when we talk about a burgeoning obesity crisis that we also have an issue with hunger as well.
But, sadly, we do.
According to the Department for Work and Pension’s own statistics, there were 3.9 million children living in poverty in 2014-15.
And in the same year, the Trussell Trust, reported that the number of people provided with 3-day emergency food parcels reached just over 1 million.
If we were to account for people receiving a food parcel more than once, it would be estimated around 500,000 different people in the UK received food assistance that year – and almost half would be thought to be children.
A report by Kelloggs a few years ago, also showed the scale of the problem we face, when a third of parents reported that they skipped a meal so their children did not go hungry.
This issue is exacerbated during the school holidays, especially the summer holidays, as teachers and catering staff have anecdotally reported that children return from the long summer holidays looking malnourished and having fallen behind their peers in terms of their attainment; only to improve and catch up again after a few weeks of access to free breakfasts and lunches to help aid their learning.
Yet, sadly, many people will argue that when the school gates lock for the school holidays, it is none of our business about how a child eats, or doesn’t’ in some cases, when they are at home.
But our children are at school for 190 days of the year, and for the rest of the year, a total of 170 days, their food is the responsibility of their parents totally. Some may say this is right and how it should be.
We all know that food helps us concentrate and basically it is our fuel and stops us from fainting, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to focus on anything other than how hungry we are; so why is this not seen to be the same for children?
In 21st century Britain children are going hungry for sustained periods of time, that is why inaction and complacency cannot be accepted.
Why is school food important?
Healthy school food is crucial to our approach to childhood obesity and hunger.
Though it must be said: healthy school food is not a silver bullet that will fix everything.
But it should be included as part of a whole array of policy measures to help address health and educational issues facing our society.
Yet, I do believe it can go a long way to address these issues and be complementary to other policy measures being looked at in order to address this crisis.
Back in 2009 when the last Labour Government introduced the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham the analysis was steadfast in showing the benefits of this policy measure.
In both Durham and Newham, they found an uptake of 23% in vegetable consumption at lunchtime with a steep decline in the typical unhealthy packed lunch foods.
For example, there was a 16% decline in soft drink consumption and an 18% decline in crisps being eaten.
Whilst these pilots and the future roll-out were sadly scrapped by the incoming Tory-led Coalition Government, we have thankfully seen improvements in the provision on offer when it comes to school food – especially through the School Food Plan.
The School Food Plan helped to revolutionise the way we look at food in our schools, but also provided school cooks and catering staff – just like all of you – with the support and capacity to do what you all knew to be the case in the first place: improving food on offer in order to help children’s health and educational attainment.
This is because all of us in this room right now can agree that the school setting is one of the most important vehicles for providing children with the necessary interventions to improve their life chances.
It is where we nurture and educate the future generations; so why shouldn’t we give them the right kind of fuel to achieve that?
There is still a long way to go when it comes to the School Food Plan and ensuring it is implemented correctly, and I know that Sally Shadrack is committed to doing this as the Chair of LACA and so is the rest of the School Food Plan Alliance – who are acting as the guardians of the principles and recommendations of the School Food Plan to make sure it is achieved in full.
The reason this is so important is that, as I’ve already said, for many children, their hot and healthy school meal may be the only nutritious meal they have in a day.
That is why it is imperative we do all we can to make that meal the most enjoyable and healthiest meal we can provide.
Sadly, there are still many children who do not receive free school meals – mainly because they are just over the threshold for receiving them and instead have packed lunches – the majority, 99% of which, have been shown to be lacking in nutritional value – or because their parents feel they are too ashamed to accept free school meals and want to avoid the stigma that comes with free school meals.
This is why I am evangelical about universal free school meals; not only because of the health benefits I have already described to you, but also the social and behavioural impact it can provide as well, especially in reducing the stigma that is associated with those on free school meals.
But it is important that we ensure the UIFSM policy is fully evaluated to ensure it is robust and achieves what we want it to. As the saying goes: what gets measured, gets done. That is why I’m pleased that LACA is conducting their own evaluation of UIFSM and I look forward to hearing the results in due course.
That is why it was welcome, in what was already a much reduced Childhood Obesity Plan, to see that the Government plans to commission Ofsted to look at school food as part of a wider thematic review into health and well-being in our schools.
We’re still awaiting the details of this – though I can assure you I am on the case, and keeping a close eye on what the Government are doing when it comes to this matter.
This is because it is something, we as the APPG, have been calling for over a number of years now and I hope that it provides us with the information we need to continue to raise our banners and advance our campaign for improved school food and better access to it.
What can we all do together?
Whenever I come to speak at LACA Conferences, I always have an ask of you all.
My request is the same every time and that is to write to your local Member of Parliament and let them know about the work you have been doing to improve food in your school and ask them to support measures that will benefit children’s health and education.
Even invite them along to your school to see the situation first-hand – I can assure you politicians love a good photo opportunity! And free food!
Remember, as the School Food Plan outlined, the school catering workforce is bigger than the navy – and the Government must listen to you.
You may not see yourselves as natural campaigners – but your voices should – and must – be heard.
As individuals, with experience on the ground of what is going on, and as a collective that is bigger than the navy – your influence and campaign capacity is endless.
That is why it is important that you harness it. I know that the leadership of LACA under the direction of your fabulous Chair, Sally, is already doing this, but you have to all get behind her and speak to your MPs and make them aware of all the hard work you are doing and what the issues are that we need them to get behind.
As a Member of Parliament myself, having a constituent highlight an issue to me is always important – especially when this happens on mass – so get your friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours to write in as well.
It has been over 110 years since Fred Jowlett introduced his law to begin the long march to improve food in our schools and we have a long way to go yet.
We’re the current custodians of this important issue and we must do what is right by the children in our schools today but also the children that will come after them.
If not, we will fail a generation and see the century-long march falter.
We cannot allow that to happen. The health and education of our children is far too precious to be passive about.
Our campaigning can ensure the next generation reach their full potential.
And I know that’s what we all want to see.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak to LACA's East of England about her work on school food. In her speech, Sharon...
Read my latest Sunderland Echo column below or find it on the Sunderland Echo website.
The last week has been dominated by the news of the London terror attack last week.
As people went about their daily lives – with tourists taking in the sights of London and Parliament voting on the Pensions Schemes Bill – terror befell the capital and the world watched as Parliament entered lockdown.
Thankfully due to the amazing reactions of our police and security personnel, Parliament was quickly secured and the terrorist was swiftly dealt with.
But sadly, in the moments before that happened, we saw many innocent people injured, some resulting in deaths, including that of Pc Keith Palmer, who bravely and selflessly defended our democracy and the many thousands of people who call Parliament their workplace, including myself and my team.
The gratitude towards our emergency services, from the police to NHS staff, could never be expressed enough, for their duty of running towards the danger whilst telling everyone else to go the opposite way, and of course to my parliamentary colleague, Tobias Ellwood, MP, who did all he could to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer, as did Tony Davis, the local boxing coach from Low Fell, who is now living in Darlington, who was one of the first on the scene, again running into possible danger to help.
Many words of reassurance have been said since last Wednesday, and in the days and weeks ahead, our emotions will run high and people will be understandably anxious about what this all means. I want to echo the words of many others, and say: we must never let terror win.
It will be hard, but we must continue with life as normal. Not as a way to forget what has happened, but as a display of defiance against such evil acts. We must maintain our resolve to uphold our freedoms and not give in to those who wish to destroy our way of life.
That is why the day after the attack took place, myself and my team were back to work early that morning doing the jobs that we were there to do and standing strong against the adversity of the day before.
And in the days following, I continued to meet with constituents and honoured all appointments in my diary, prepared for speeches in the Chamber for this week on various topics, from rare genetic diseases to local HIV services, and responded to constituent’s correspondence – as I do every day.
Primarily our thoughts must be with those affected by this horrific attack, especially Pc Keith Palmer’s family. But we must continue on as we always do; because not doing so, will let the terrorists win and we can never let that happen.
Read my latest Sunderland Echo column below or find it on the Sunderland Echo website. The last week has been dominated by the news of the London terror attack last...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on HIV Treatment and raised concerns with the ramifications of the Health and Social Care Act on local HIV services, along with concerns over public health budget cuts and issues with PrEP.
You can read the speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP HIV Treatment Westminster Hall Debate 28.02.17
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on HIV Treatment and raised concerns with the ramifications of the Health and Social Care Act on local HIV...
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the UK's Rare Diseases Strategy and the need for an implementation plan to be drafted - which at the time of the debate, was being refused by both the Department of Health and NHS England. Sharon raised concerns that this deadlock between the two was having an impact on the lives of patients with rare diseases and their care, support and treatment, but also the need for specific recommendations in the Strategy to be worked on.
You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Rare Diseases Strategy Westminster Hall Debate 28.03.17
Speech pasted below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Pritchard.
I welcome this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing it and for his excellent introduction to it, although I am sorry that I missed the start of his speech because it started four minutes early before my hon. Friends and I were in our places.
I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon, including the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the spokesman for the Scottish National party, who all made excellent and insightful speeches.
As others have said, here in the UK one in 17 people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life, which equates to approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. It cannot go unsaid that those 3.5 million people have a wide range of symptoms, which vary from condition to condition, some of which we have heard about this afternoon. It is clear that there are common experiences that people with these conditions all share. As Rare Diseases UK has estimated that it takes on average four years for a patient to receive a diagnosis, it is clear that there are many missed opportunities to help those people living with rare diseases. Each and every person who suffers from a rare disease deserves the necessary support to live a fulfilling life.
That is why it was welcome that in 2013 the coalition Government published their UK-wide strategy for rare diseases, which was seen as heralding a new era in the treatment and care of rare disease patients across all four home nations. The 51 recommendations are all to be welcomed, as they each take us a step further in addressing concerns about the care and treatment of rare diseases, and the strategy’s aim is to make sure that no one gets left behind just because they have a rare disease. It is an aim that Labour welcomes wholeheartedly.
Most of my contribution to this debate will focus on the issues with the implementation of the strategy, but I will take a moment to mention some of the positives. It is welcome to see that the National Institute for Health Research has launched the Rare Diseases Translational Research Collaboration—I will use the acronym, RD-TRC, as it is much easier to say—which aims to empower patients to engage and become involved with research and research funding decisions. To date, the NIHR has invested £4 million in the RD-TRC, and the programme is expected to continue for another five years, with a £5 million investment.
Work has also been done by Public Health England on data recording, to bolster diagnosis and early intervention, and we have also seen Health Education England collaborate with the National School of Healthcare Science to produce two educational videos for healthcare professionals, in order to raise awareness of the problems faced by families who have a child with an undiagnosed condition and the importance of considering whether it is a rare disease. All this work is to be welcomed and should not go unnoticed.
Yet the sticking point in all of this, and the reason why we are here today to debate this issue, is that the Government are digging their heels in and not getting on with drafting an implementation plan, while the other home nations’ health departments are making significant strides. That betrays not only those patients living in England who wish this strategy to be properly implemented but the strategy itself, which stated that all four home nations must see the vision behind the strategy become a reality by 2020. It also undermines all the excellent work that I mentioned previously to implement the recommendations.
The strategy was published in 2013 and we are now just three years from the date set for the vision to be realised. However, the all-party group that the hon. Member for Bath so ably chairs has discovered that the Department of Health does not intend to publish an implementation plan, believing that it should be published by the NHS. Yet the NHS has said that it does not intend to do this either, as it does not have responsibility for other arm’s length bodies of the Department of Health. I want to ask the Minister why. I want to know why we are seeing patients and their families caught in this dispute between the NHS and the Department of Health. This situation cannot continue; there are people suffering right now who need this strategy to be implemented correctly.
I have briefly mentioned the report by the all-party group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions on the lack of an implementation plan, but I know that it covers other issues as well, and I will take a moment to touch on some of them. One of the main issues raised was the lack of communication between organisations responsible for implementing the various aspects of the plan, and the failure to provide patients, families, doctors, industry experts and patient organisations with updates on progress of the strategy. That is deeply worrying, as it is important that people are made aware of the issues that affect them so personally. Therefore, it is not surprising that the all-party group heard from more than 300 patients that widespread disillusionment and disappointment had become the common feeling about the strategy, despite the optimism felt when it was published five years ago. The sting in the tail is that there are implementation plans for the strategy across the UK, with the exception of here in England. I share the frustration of the many others who are affected by the Government’s complacency. The Department’s rationale for not providing updates on progress is that patient organisations can disseminate information to patients and families, but it sadly fails to grasp that those organisations and charities are often very small and do not have the resources to pull together updates and send them out.
Also, issues that have not been worked on since the strategy was published have been identified, including prevention and identification of rare diseases, improving care pathways and failing to implement structures that would facilitate collaboration between the four home nations. In his response, I would be grateful if the Minister could provide us with an update on those points and tell us what his Department plans to do to see the recommendations through.
The strategy is now five years old, and although there has been work to see it realised, it has not gone far enough. The failure here is that the Department for Health in England is not fulfilling its duty to draft an implementation plan to realise the visionary goals in the strategy, which undermines the work already under way and hinders any future work. The Minister must set that right, and I hope he plans to do so today. He has the power to rectify the situation and he cannot be complacent when it comes to supporting people living with rare diseases.
We are not talking about a handful of people; many of our own constituents are being failed by the Government, and all they ask for is that the Department for Health do what Departments in the other home nations are doing and provide an implementation plan to enable the strategy to be fully realised and make the impact it was intended to have. I once more thank the hon. Member for Bath. I hope that the debate will make the Minister think again about the Government’s opposition to taking responsibility for a plan, and that he will honour the whole vision of the strategy, instead of cherry-picking from it.
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the UK's Rare Diseases Strategy and the need for an implementation plan to be drafted...