(Image courtesy: School Food Matters twitter, 2023)
Good afternoon everyone!
I’m delighted to be here today with you all in Leeds at the 2023 APSE Seminar.
I am also the Private Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer
However, what brings me here today, is that I am also the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, which I set up in 2010 and have chaired ever since.
The APPG is made up of parliamentarians from all parties, charities, local authorities, food distributors, caterers, academics and many, many more, and APSE, with the fantastic Vickie Hacking, provide secretariat duties to the APPG.
The APPG provides a cross-party parliamentary platform to keep school food, child hunger and food education on the political agenda in the UK Parliament, campaigning to ensure that children receive high quality meals in and outside of school.
Across the last year, public sector catering has suffered through a really tough time, with skyrocketing energy costs and record inflation levels impacting heavily upon food and staffing costs.
Catering teams working across schools, hospitals, the care sector and universities have had to amend menus, tighten budgets and work really hard to ensure that quality food is still delivered in what seems like an ever-worsening situation.
Last time I spoke to you, we were awaiting the long term policy ambitions from the Government in response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy review. But as you know the Government failed to deliver much more than a new slogan.
The Government acknowledged that the food industry is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined, yet all they did was re-announce existing funding in a series of vague intentions, lacking in any concrete proposals to tackle the major issues facing our country.
At the very moment the UK food system is exposed as being quite fragile under pressure from world events, the Government proved itself be tired and out of ideas, failing to deliver on the ambition that our country needs.
In Henry’s own words, it didn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now, and it didn't set out what needs to be done.
This was a disappointing way to start the summer, as gas prices and food prices began to rise. And then things took a turn for the worse, still.
The Government in crises, a merry-go-round of new ministers including prime ministers, policy at a standstill, mounting record levels of inflation, basically 12 weeks of political gambles, causing so much chaos that our economy tanked... families across the country started to really be impacted by this crisis which was frankly made in Downing Street.
And yet, public sector caterers continued to put food on the table – an increasingly difficult task, as our APPG heard at our meeting in September.
The results of an APPG survey launched by APSE found that, in just three months, close to 50% of school meal providers surveyed had experienced an increase in food costs of at least 20%.
Nearly 60% reported that utility costs increased, with one respondent noting a five-fold increase in utility costs.
These stats will only have worsened since the survey was carried out last year. While inflation is decreasing slowly, very slowly, food prices continue to rise; there is alarming situation facing school food providers, with food prices increasing from 10-30% across all areas.
This has meant some catering managers are now having to – reluctantly – turn their backs on local procurement. And in some extreme cases, I’ve heard that the number of hot meals are being reduced, and the high quality ingredients are having to be switched out for cheaper alternatives.
I know schools are doing all they can to make sure costs aren’t loaded on to paid-for meals. But the average price of a school meal will rise to £2.65 this year meaning more children will be at risk of being denied access to a hot, healthy meal.
In our survey, 60% of respondents said that dinner money debt had increased – that’s children coming to school with no money to pay for a lunch. Just under 50% reported that they had seen a decrease in the number of paid meals being served.
These are the impacts of the wider cost of living crisis, affecting families who are above the threshold for a free school meal.
That takes us to the main policy push from the sector across 2022; campaigns for the extension of free school meal eligibility really gained traction.
More than 800,000 children living in poverty in England are currently ineligible for free school meals, due to having a household income of over £7,400 before benefits. These families may be forced into the decision between feeding their children or paying their energy bills.
(Thankfully,) in Scotland and now also Wales, the roll out of Universal Primary Free School Meals has continued, helping to combat food insecurity facing children in those devolved nations. I know new challenges for providers have appeared with this roll out, and I’m looking forward to learning about them, but overall this is a really positive step for school food policy, making sure more children receive those healthy, nutritious meals.
All of us here will know too well that hungry children cannot learn.
Yet the UK Government has continued to have its head stuck in the sand relating to England.
That’s really disappointing, when the sector has been so strong and unified in message.
While there are elements of quick relief that could be provided - funding increases for example - school caterers and the wider public sector needs more than that. We need to make sure that long-term these issues are fixed, so that public sector caterers are never using the words “existential” again.
13 years of managed decline of public services has left us vulnerable to those “shocks”, like Ukraine and Covid before it. We need more than just last minute frenzies of sticking-plaster politics. We need to be more resilient.
That means taking on low pay and workforce issues, delivering a serious long-term plan to get the economy growing again, making sure that working people don’t pay the costs of the Tory cycle of doom.
We need to start making those fairer choices. And in this moment of chaos, I know that there is a growing impatience for a change in the way this country is governed.
And with an election en route – this year or next, who knows – it's time to really get demanding, and bring forward the enthusiasm for school meals.
I know that experts and campaigners – some of you in this room today – will keep mounting the pressure upon the Government, and of course the opposition parties too. And know I am doing my bit in this regard also.
I know that without the people in this room who work so hard to keep public services afloat, that this country would grind to a halt. The issues that matter to you need to be in the public eye, and they need to be at the door of the Government.
I hope to be able to work with many of you going forward in the weeks, months and years to come. I’m sure I will.
Winners of the APPG Excellence in School Food Awards and the APSE Soft Facilities Management Innovation Awards 2023
2023 APSE Seminar speech - Leeds
(Image courtesy: School Food Matters twitter, 2023)Good afternoon everyone! I’m delighted to be here today with you all in Leeds at the 2023 APSE Seminar. I am also the Private...
4.51pm - Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) on securing this important debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss the next wave of dormant assets and the possibility of establishing a community wealth fund.
Community Wealth Funds Westminster Hall debate - 6th December 2022.
4.51pm - Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab) It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon)... Read more
Fire services in the North East debate - 23 November, 2022
Fire Services: North-east England - Westminster Hall debate Read more
I will speak very quickly, Madam Deputy Speaker. When I became chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties in 2016, the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014 was under way. I had taken that piece of legislation through Parliament as a shadow Minister so I was hopeful that it might lead to an advance in SEND provision in schools, but things have obviously not gone to plan. The new SEND Green Paper implies by its very existence that something has gone wrong.
Debate: The Best Place to Grow Up and Grow Old
I will speak very quickly, Madam Deputy Speaker. When I became chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties in 2016, the implementation of the... Read more
9.10pm - Madam Deputy Speaker - Dame Eleanor Laing - Epping Forest - Conservative
Order. I am reluctant to reduce the time limit, but I am receiving appeals for me to try to get more people in, so I will reduce it to three minutes. However, not everyone will have a chance to speak this evening.
9.18pm - Mrs Sharon Hodgson - Washington and Sunderland West - Labour
I speak in this debate as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, which I set up over 10 years ago.
The APPG shines a light on ticket abuse and campaigns to protect fans who are purchasing event tickets from being scammed and ripped off, often by the large-scale ticket touts that dominate resale sites such as Viagogo and StubHub. The APPG works with experts in the field such as FanFair Alliance, a music industry campaign, and the Iridium Consultancy to tackle industrial-scale ticket touting. I hope that when this legislation is reviewed in Committee, those organisations will be called on to share their expertise in this area.
Sadly, online ticket fraud is absolutely rife. Despite some regulatory and legislative improvements, not least in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, too many fans are still being scammed on a regular basis. The Bill, as it stands, includes a major loophole that means people will not be properly protected from online fraud. Search engines such as Google are not currently covered by the requirements on fraudulent advertising. A key issue in the ticketing market is how websites that allow fraudulent tickets to be sold often take out paid ads with Google that appear at the top of the search results. This gives the false impression to consumers that these sites are official ticket outlets. People mistakenly believe that only authorised ticket outlets can advertise on Google—people trust Google—and they are scammed as a result.
The Times reported last year that Google was taking advertising money from scam websites selling Premier League football tickets, even though the matches were taking place behind closed doors during lockdown—you couldn’t make it up. The Online Safety Bill needs to ensure that consumers are provided with much greater protection and that Google is forced to take greater responsibility for who it allows to advertise. If the Bill took action, online ticket fraud would be drastically reduced. With £2.3 billion lost to online fraud in the UK last year, it is very much needed.
It is also important to remember the human side of online fraud. Victims go through intense stress, as they are not only scammed out of their money but feel duped, stupid and humiliated. There cannot be a Member of this House who has not had to support a constituent devastated by online fraud. I have come across many stories, including one of an elderly couple who bought two tickets to see their favourite artist to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. When they arrived at the venue, they were turned away and told that they had been sold fake tickets.
I have a lot more to say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think you get the drift.
Online Safety Bill debate - Tuesday 19 April 2022
9.10pm - Madam Deputy Speaker - Dame Eleanor Laing - Epping Forest - ConservativeOrder. I am reluctant to reduce the time limit, but I am receiving appeals for me to... Read more
Westminster Hall speech on regional inequalities and child poverty
Image copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit, 2022.
Sharon Hodgson MP - spoke in a parliamentary debate about regional inequalities and child poverty held in Westminster Hall, called by Labour colleague Liz Twist, MP for Blaydon.
The debate couldn’t be more relevant at the current time, when children in the North East have the second highest poverty rate in the UK, and 51% of Washington and Sunderland West households with children are in receipt of UC or Working Tax Credit. Many of these families were struggling before the pandemic, but a toxic combination of low incomes, a cost-of-living emergency and the Government’s £20-a-week cuts to universal credit has sent many families into crisis. Speaking in the debate, I focused on the provision of free school meals – a quarter of North East Children in poverty are not eligible for a free school meal. Hungry children cannot learn, and I wanted to make it clear that the Government’s talk of levelling up is meaningless when thousands of children in poverty are being left behind. Food insecurity must be addressed.
Westminster Hall speech on regional inequalities and child poverty - 02/03/2022
Westminster Hall speech on regional inequalities and child povertyImage copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit, 2022. Sharon Hodgson MP - spoke in a parliamentary debate about regional inequalities and child poverty held... Read more
Image copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit, 2022.
Watch the debate in Westminster Hall here >
Read this debate in Hansard >
Facebook clip here >
Text of speech (from Hansard):
2022 02 08 - Westminster Hall debate: Potential merits of reopening the Leamside Line
Image copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit, 2022.Watch the debate in Westminster Hall here >Read this debate in Hansard >Facebook clip here >Text of speech (from Hansard): Read more
During a debate brought by Liz Twist MP, and alongside fellow North East MPs, I raised the lack of quality bus services in the North East.
Image copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit, 2021.
At a recent street surgery in Oxclose, the inconsistency and infrequency of buses was brought up many times. Reliable and frequent bus services connect people to the economy and are vital for areas like Washington which risk being stranded. However, our Local Authorities are having to bear the brunt of the Government’s public transport cuts as the Government has slashed covid funding for the Metro. With the Leamside line snubbed in the Integrated Rail Plan, bus provision is even more important. I will continue to press the Government on this issue and work with colleagues like Bridget Phillipson and Paul Howell regarding the reinstatement of the Leamside line.
Bus Services North-east England - Westminster Hall debate
During a debate brought by Liz Twist MP, and alongside fellow North East MPs, I raised the lack of quality bus services in the North East.Image copyright, Parliamentary Recording Unit,... Read more
Sharon Hodgson spoke in the debate - Giving Every baby the Best Start in Life debate - brought by the Hon Member for Richmond Park, Sarah Olney MP.
Watch Sharon's contribution to the debate at timing 15:44 >
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate here >
Giving Every baby the Best Start in Life debate
Sharon Hodgson spoke in the debate - Giving Every baby the Best Start in Life debate - brought by the Hon Member for Richmond Park, Sarah Olney MP.Watch Sharon's contribution...
In-school Counselling, Commons Chamber on 9th November 2021.
Sharon Hodgson MP spoke in a debate in the the House of Commons Chamber, brought by The Rt. Hon Nick Brown MP, on school-based counselling services provision.
A silent epidemic is sweeping through our schoolchildren in poor mental health. For some children, school is a solace from difficulties at home.
In-school counselling services help children cope with a broad range of emotional pressures and reduce chronic mental health problems. Only around 61% of schools in the UK benefit from a counselling service, a sad deficit which the Tory Government must address.
School-based Counselling Services debate - 9 Nov, 2021
In-school Counselling, Commons Chamber on 9th November 2021.Sharon Hodgson MP spoke in a debate in the the House of Commons Chamber, brought by The Rt. Hon Nick Brown MP, on... Read more