As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led on this issue for a number of years. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the support given to those affected by this scandal under the new system and those missed out, the involvement of private for-profit companies in the administering of payments, and also the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel.
You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16
Speech pasted below:
Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate on diabetes technologies and what more needs to be done to support those living with diabetes.
You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Diabetes Technologies Westminster Hall Debate 23.11.16
Speech pasted below:
Diabetes Technologies Westminster Hall Debate 23.11.16
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate on diabetes technologies and what more needs to be done to support those living with diabetes. You can read...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Self-Care. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to ensure self care was fully supported by the Government o help reduce pressures on the wider NHS and health services and also the impact of cuts to public health funding will have on self care.
You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Self Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16
Speech pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I welcome this important debate and the fact that it has been secured during Self Care Week -
Sir Kevin Barron
Just after it.
Just after Self Care Week. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing this debate and for his excellent speech, which shows his deep knowledge of and passion for all matters relating to the health of our nation, especially with regard to preventive health measures. I thank him for that.
This debate is especially important, as it is the first time we have had a dedicated debate on self-care in a very long time. We heard an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Before we hear from the Minister, I want to look at the issue of self-care and the wider picture of preventive measures through the lens of the cultural shift in the NHS away from care and repair to prevention and wellbeing promotion. I will also look at how aspects of current Government policy, such as the cuts to public health funding—I know I keep banging on about that, but it is important—is detrimental to our shared vision for an improved NHS and to achieving a healthier nation.
When NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View” was published just over two years ago, we were promised a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. That belief in reshaping the approach of the NHS and our health services away from a sickness alleviation service towards a wellbeing service that promotes healthier lifestyles choices, improved wellbeing and the prevention of ill health through behavioural change is supported across the NHS and in wider society.
That shift is paramount when we see the NHS in a state of crisis, with longer A&E waiting times and GP appointments becoming harder and harder to come by. One in four patients wait at least a week to see their GP. My husband had to wait three weeks to see the GP because it was not an emergency, but he thought it was an emergency; sometimes we do not know, and it is up to the doctor to decide what is important and what is not.
Some parts of the NHS are at crisis point. That is not a party political point at all; it is supported by health organisations such as the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, which professed this time last year that the NHS was at risk of a “catastrophic collapse”. If the worrying trends in waiting times that I have described are ever to be reversed and we are to save the NHS, we need to have a wholesale rethink about the way we approach health policy. Prevention must be the key, and self-care should be a central part of that reconsidered approach.
Self-care is about empowering people and patients to maintain their own health through informed lifestyle choices, better awareness of symptoms and better awareness of when it is important to seek professional advice—for example, for possible cancer symptoms, where early diagnosis is absolutely crucial and a matter of life and death—and when an ailment can be treated by someone themselves in the appropriate manner by talking to their community pharmacist, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley described on the occasion of a family holiday. With improved confidence, people can take control of their own health or long-term conditions much better and make decisions that are far better for the NHS.
It is completely understandable that when we are unsure about the cause of symptoms or the best course of treatment or care, our first port of call is the NHS. However, being more aware of how we can treat ourselves and having preventive practices in place that reduce the prevalence of ill health will help go some way towards pulling the NHS back from the brink. The NHS is a trusted bastion, but sadly we are seeing more and more people accessing NHS services when there is no need and when a chat to one of our excellent community pharmacists would have sufficed—for example, in the cases we have heard about today of splinters, paper cuts, hiccups or broken nails. A bit of common sense is all that is needed, certainly not a trip to A&E.
In 2014, A&E departments across the country dealt with 3.7 million visits for self-treatable conditions such as those mentioned today, as well as the common cold, flu or muscle pain, combined with 52 million visits to the GP for similar conditions. It is no wonder people cannot get an appointment when some people are going to see their GP for that sort of thing. That has an estimated cost to the NHS of more than £10 billion over the past five years, which is not a small or insignificant amount of money.
Self-care is a crucial preventive measure that must be developed further to ensure that the NHS is as resilient as possible and can respond in more effective and meaningful ways to the nation’s health. With all that in mind, it is deeply worrying that the vision set out in the “Five Year Forward View” has progressed little or not at all. That is seen most clearly through the Making Every Contact Count initiative, which aims to make NHS staff members an important part of boosting awareness of healthy living, rather than only administering healthcare to the sick. It is a fantastic initiative. In theory, that strategy can go far in addressing issues around lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs, diet and alcohol consumption by just adding a one or two-minute conversation when a healthcare professional already has someone in front of them.
It is worrying that the progress and roll-out of that scheme is patchy, despite there being lots of good practice across the country, such as the social prescribing service in Rotherham that my right hon. Friend talked about. Where such system change is flourishing and showing that it can support a reduction in pressures on NHS services such as A&E and GP practices, it should be encouraged, and the roll-out should be far more substantial.
I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance on three key asks for the Make Every Contact Count initiative: first, that we see progress made on the scheme in the new year, as promised by Professor Fenton from Public Health England during the second oral evidence session for the APPG on primary care and public health inquiry; secondly, that best practice is made more readily available to improve provision across the country through the Self Care Forum’s database of best practice; and thirdly, that he commits to ensuring CCGs prioritise implementation of the scheme in their local areas and that training is provided for staff, to equip them to provide consistent self-care messaging.
It should not go without saying that there are examples across the country that show the innovative and positive impacts of improving self-care, such as a scheme in my own neck of the woods in South Tyneside—the neighbouring borough to my own—where a borough-wide conversation has been developed that shifts away from asking, “How can I help you?” and instead asks, “How can I help you to help yourself?”
Those initiatives need funding and encouraging from Government to succeed. However, what we are currently seeing has been described as a frustrating and perverse approach to preventive measures, with cuts to public health funding of £200 million in last year’s Budget, along with an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each year to 2021, announced in last year’s autumn statement. Hopefully tomorrow we will see our new Chancellor go some way to rectifying and reversing that; we can live in hope, unless the Minister has some insight into what the Chancellor will announce. We will keep our fingers crossed.
The Minister is well aware of my opinion on those cuts, because we discuss them every time we meet, and the need to rethink the whole approach, but it is not only me saying this. Only recently, the Health Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)—who I am sure would have been here today if not for the health debate coming up in the Chamber very soon—uncovered serious concerns about the finances and funding of the NHS and public health. In a letter to the Health Secretary in October, the Committee said:
“All the indicators suggest that demand is continuing to grow and that we need to go further on prevention”.
I could not agree more. These cuts are a false economy and are exacerbating the situation within our health services. We are seeing funding directed to our crisis-ridden A&E departments, which are having to crisis-manage failures that could have been addressed a lot sooner.
The Minister needs fully to understand that to make cuts to one part of our health service without considering the impact on other parts is leading us down the road to rack and ruin. To give him some understanding of the cuts, I suggest that he look at the Health Committee report “Public health post-2013”. The Select Committee does good work, but the Chair is not here to hear me highlight all this work. The report that I have just mentioned highlights research by the Association of Directors of Public Health, which found that local authorities are planning deep cuts to public health services due to the cuts coming from central Government to local authorities. It shows a marked rise for 2016-17 compared with 2015-16.
The Government need to have a wholesale rethink of the funding of the NHS and public health services that sees a redirection to prevention, which will go some way towards addressing many of the problems in our health service that are now being documented weekly. I hope that the Minister takes some time in his response to consider the points that I have raised in relation to public health funding and how current actions are failing the vision of the five year forward view and the health of our nation. Self-care needs properly to be funded and supported to be innovative, so that we ensure that the continuing crisis facing the NHS can be reversed. We cannot continue as we are, because our NHS is too precious to let it fail. The health of the nation needs to be protected, where possible, to enable people to lead long, happy and fulfilling lives.
Self-Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Self-Care. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to ensure self care was fully supported by the Government...
Sharon speaking in the Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16
Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Arthritis Awareness Week. In her speech, Sharon raised the concerns that more and more people would be diagnosed with this health condition, and the need for preventative measures to be considered whilst also looking at the false economy around cuts to public health grants, and for better awareness of symptoms and treatments.
You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16
Speech pasted below:
Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16
Sharon speaking in the Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16 Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Arthritis...
Sharon speaking in the Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16
Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Tobacco Control Plans. In her speech, Sharon discussed the issue of regional and socio-economic variations in smoking prevalence, along with the take-up of smoking amongst children and young people and smoking amongst pregnant women. Sharon also called on the Government to explain their delayed introduction of a new Tobacco Control Plan.
You can read Sharon's speechin Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16
Speech pasted below:
Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16
Sharon speaking in the Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16 Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Tobacco...
Sharon hosted an Arts Summit reception in Parliament, which brought together all the arts-related APPGs to network and campaign on the importance of the arts to society, our economy and children's education.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Firstly, I want to take a moment to thank everyone for coming along this afternoon.
It is fantastic to see so many people from across Parliament, the cultural and creative industries and the education sector coming together to show our support for the arts and be a strong voice to raise awareness of our concerns for the future of the arts and creative industries.
Human creativity is important to us as it’s what makes us who we are. When the very first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall and danced around the fire singing, creativity and artistic expression have been central to our very existence as individuals and as a society.
We should not betray that fact, and should instead harness the boundless nature of human creativity.
The arts are not just vitally important to us as individuals and as a society, but also to our economy. The arts make £84.1 billion per annum here in the UK, which is rising by 6% yearly.
This translates as £9.6 million an hour for the UK, or a whopping £160,000 a minute. Once I have finished addressing you this afternoon, the arts will have contributed £800,000 to our economy.
These figures cannot go ignored.
Yet, there is a risk that these impressive figures are in jeopardy from the ramifications of the country’s decision to exit the EU, along with the Government’s controversial education policies.
On Brexit, much of this has already been discussed by others in the sector, including Dezeen magazine which created their Brexit Design manifesto, which is supported by leading luminaries from across the design, architecture and arts industries who are asking for the Government to recognise the design world’s importance to our economy, but also its close connections to the EU, as one of its major export markets for design services.
Just in the last few weeks we have seen the internationalism and innovation of the UK’s arts and creative industries, with Frieze Arts Fair last weekend, where artists, art buyers and galleries from across the world descended on London to enjoy, buy and promote art. To last month, seeing London Fashion Week and London Design Week, showcasing the creativity and design innovation of some of our best assets here in the UK, to the rest of the world.
But note, it isn’t all a London-centric story, with over 60% of creative businesses outside of the capital – with games designers, such as Ubisoft, in Gateshead in the North East, and Media City in Manchester, to name just a few.
Arts and culture unite our country and highlight the best of British to the world. We cannot allow exiting the EU to damage these industries.
It is not only Brexit which may have an impact on our arts, creative and cultural industries, but also the current Government’, and previous Coalition Government’s, educational policies.
Many of you, in fact everyone in this room I would imagine, will have heard of the EBacc and the growing evidence that has shown that this school performance measure is having serious consequences on the uptake of arts subject in our schools.
It is obvious when we saw a decrease of 11,552 students taking an art and design GCSE last year, and a 33.4% decline in AS levels in art, then we are setting ourselves up for a serious pipeline problem where we will struggle to find new artists, designers and creators to allow the arts and creative industries to flourish.
When business is booming and consumers are enjoying what UK plc has to offer, we are seeing that education policies are failing to recognise the fact that creativity will be one of the main drivers of the 21st century economy.
To make sure the next generation is as successful as it possibly can be, we need to be educating them to take up the jobs of the future. Many of which won’t have been heard of yet, but as we all will agree, creativity will play a central role in those jobs of the future.
That is why this summit is important to begin the work of closer collaboration between Parliament and the creative industries and I hope that we will have great success come out of today, so we can champion common causes which affect such an important part of our society and economy.
Sharon speaks at Arts Summit in Parliament
Sharon hosted an Arts Summit reception in Parliament, which brought together all the arts-related APPGs to network and campaign on the importance of the arts to society, our economy and...
Sharon speaking at the British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention
Photo copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP, 2016
Sharon was invited to address members of the British Youth Council at their Youth Voices Convention in Newcastle, where they discussed Brexit, along with other issues impacted the lives of young people.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you so much for inviting me here to speak to you all today. I have worked with the British Youth Council for a number of years now and the work they have been doing regionally and in Parliament is phenomenal.
I would like to thank all of the young people who have come along today to take part and to talk about the issues that matter most to you. It is important that politicians, of all parties, seriously listen to what young people have to say especially in such turbulent and unpredictable times following the EU Referendum result in the summer.
The young people of our country are as engaged, as knowledgeable and as important as anybody else in our society, and I am sure the way you work together and contribute at events like these will enable many to finally understand how vital it is to listen to our next generation. I am really looking forward to answering your questions in a short while as well, to put this idea into practice!
It is important for young people to identify the issues that will affect them the most, and to have serious debates and discussions on these matters, which can then be fed to politicians who sit in Westminster, along with our devolved legislatures and local councils, to inform the work we do as politicians that effects the lives of young people.
I am also very pleased and impressed to see some of the extremely important and complicated issues that are being looked into later on today here at this convention. I have to say from the off that there will be a lot of agreement between yourselves and me. Such as votes at 16.
This is an issue which I have supported for a number of years, believing young people who contribute to our society through paying their taxes, joining the army and having the ability to get married, should have a say over who is representing them.
This move to lower the voting age would be made even stronger, if we saw real commitment from the Government on improving citizenship education in our schools so that when young people do go to the ballot box that they are as well informed as possible to make important decisions on how their lives will be affected.
One of the main issues that I hope you will be discussing today, and I am sure you will be, is what Brexit will mean for the UK and young people now that the EU Referendum vote has taken place.
Young people have the most to lose from us leaving the EU, with the unpredictability of what Brexit actually means and the impact it will have on your lives; far more than the generations who voted for us to leave the EU.
However, the votes have been cast and the decision has been made – however much many of us may not have agreed or liked the result on the 24th June. But what is important now, is young people help shape what Brexit will mean for them. As you will live with this decision for far longer than any of us who currently sit in Parliament or have taken an active interest in this issue.
From issues including, but not exclusive to: immigration and freedom of movement; access to the single market which has shown to be vital to our industries and trade; continuing the protections on our environment; seriously tackling climate change and global poverty, and; to worker’s rights. The list could go on.
What is important is that we move away from empty slogans which try to allay the concerns of many people who voted to remain or those who voted to leave but are now sceptical of the Leave campaign’s ability to deliver after their back peddling so soon after the result was known. Example, the £350 million a week on the side of the Brexit bus for the NHS.
What we need now are practical and concrete plans that will help us understand the direction our country will take once we finally invoke Article 50 and begin the process of decoupling ourselves from the EU.
Your voices must be heard, and I know that the work you do as part of the British Youth Council will be seriously listened to by Parliamentarians who will be scrutinising the Government, both from those on the backbenches, the Opposition frontbenches and the soon-to-be formed Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. But it’s not only Parliamentarians who can hold the Government to account, it is you as well.
You and your families can hold the Government to account by making your voices heard, by campaigning on issues you feel passionate about – just as you all already do as part of the British Youth Council. But also, writing to your local Member of Parliament.
Members of Parliament are there to represent their constituents, and it is important that they know the views of their constituents. As a Member of Parliament, I welcome hearing the views of all of my constituents, both young and old, and not only those who can vote.
That is why I hope you will write to your Member of Parliament after today’s convention and let them hear your views and opinions on Brexit – otherwise, your voices will not be heard as part of our daily work to represent our constituents.
The transfer of ideas and opinions, in a civilised, open and respectable manner, is exactly what our politics should be about. It is something we must cherish and protect. And I always enjoy talking to you all in such a manner. It can be incredibly refreshing from the bravado seen in the House of Commons or the vitriol seen on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you all in the Q&A shortly, and to hear what your concerns are on Brexit, but also on a whole host of issues which affect the lives of young people – from mental health services, to civil and democratic rights, and better employment opportunities. There are many I could list, but I want to hear from you and hear the concerns of young people right now.
So, once again, thank you so much for inviting me here today to be a part of this brilliant convention. I hope you all have a great day, learn a lot and have plenty of questions at the ready for me to answer!
Sharon speaks at British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention in Newcastle
Sharon speaking at the British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention Photo copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP, 2016 Sharon was invited to address members of the British Youth Council at...
Sharon speaking on the last day of LACA's Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16
Photo copyright Lindsay Graham, 2016.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak on the morning of the last day of the Lead Association in Catering in Education's (LACA) annual conference in Birmingham. Sharon spoke about the work already achieved by campaigners in school food policy, and the work still to do and what catering staff can do to help push this important agenda forward.
Sharon speaks at LACA Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16
Sharon speaking on the last day of LACA's Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16 Photo copyright Lindsay Graham, 2016. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was... Read more
Sharon speaking in the EBacc: Expressive Arts Westminster Hall debate 04.07.16
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate two petitions signed regarding the EBacc and Performing arts GCSE and A level qualifications, Sharon, in her role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education, spoke during the debate about the benefits of a well-rounded curriculum that includes high-quality, inclusive arts education.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP EBacc Expressive Arts Westminster Hall Debate
Text pasted here:
EBacc: Expressive Arts Debate Westminster Hall 04.07.16
Sharon speaking in the EBacc: Expressive Arts Westminster Hall debate 04.07.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate two...
Sharon recently spoke at a conference held by Durham County Council's Education department on child poverty, where she spoke about her work on addressing child hunger as Chair of the School Food APPG.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you for inviting me along to speak to you today.
We’ve already had an excellent opening presentation by Lorraine, and I am also looking forward to hearing from our next speaker, Sara Bryson from Children North East on poverty proofing the school day.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to stay for the whole duration of your conference – as I need to be in Parliament later this afternoon - but I do wish you all the best with today.
There are many pressing priorities as a politician when it comes to addressing issues that affect us as a society, yet for me, it is vital that we dedicate as much time and energy as possible into addressing the issue of child poverty – which is one of the most persistent and damaging issues we face as a country.
It has been one of my many ambitions since being elected 11 years ago to do all I can to tackle this issue once and for all.
This has included campaigning against the lack of choice for parents when buying their child’s school uniform when schools restrict options to an overly priced supplier, which to me is all about the underhand selection in some schools to only have a certain ‘type’ of pupil attending their school.
One of the main areas of poverty that I am currently working to develop policy around is food poverty, especially child hunger.
Food is a vital component in all of our lives.
It is important to help sustain ourselves, keep us healthy and fuel us for the day ahead.
This is no different for children.
That is why I have been a passionate advocate and supporter of providing children and young people with the much-needed food and nutrients that can help them succeed in life, both in and out of school, but also teaching them the essentials around food and cooking, which can all help address food poverty.
This has mainly been done through my work as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, which for the last five years has championed policy interventions around children and food in our schools from universal free school meals, improving the inspection of food in our schools by Ofsted and championing better provision of food education across all Key Stages.
More recently, the APPG has steered ahead on a pertinent aspect of child hunger, known as holiday hunger, with the setting up of the Holiday Hunger Task Group which has helped drive forward the agenda on child holiday hunger and championed the development of policy to address this growing issue.
That is why I am delighted to be speaking to you all today.
Over the next 20 minutes or so, and in the following Q&A, I will touch on the work of the APPG and what support those in the room today can give to the APPG, along with the Task Group, to achieve our goal of no child going hungry.
But first I want to discuss the wider issue of child poverty and child hunger in the UK to help set the scene of why the APPG has acted to address this issue.
According to figures released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) last year, absolute poverty will increase from 15.1% in 2015-16 to 18.3% in 2020-21.
This is compounded by predictions from the Resolution Foundation who fear that 200,000 more children will enter into poverty during this calendar year – the majority coming from working households.
If this trajectory was to play out, then it would be a damning indictment of the current Government, and the previous Coalition Government, who failed to address this issue meaningfully following the work in the last years of the Labour Government when we passed the Child Poverty Act in 2010.
This Act set out four legal duties on the then Government and any future Government to work towards key targets on poverty by 2020, which included less than 10 percent of children in relative poverty and less than 5% of children in absolute poverty.
These targets were important for us to work towards, and if possible exceed, and get to a place where no child was living in either relative or absolute poverty.
However, back in July of last year, we saw the then Work and Pensions Secretary make a decision that the child poverty targets set out in the Act would be replaced with a new duty to report on levels of educational attainment, worklessness and addiction, rather than relative material disadvantage.
Whilst measuring these areas is important as they are commonly experienced by those living in poverty and by children from disadvantaged backgrounds; it beggar’s belief why we should consider withdrawing the duty to report and monitor material disadvantage also.
Abolishing these legal targets will not see poverty disappear from our society and will not solve the growing crisis that we are watching unfold in this country, instead poverty will just go unmonitored, unchecked and unrestrained .
These changes will make poverty an issue which is unchallenged and will fail to allow us, as Parliamentarians and civil society, to react with the right kind of policy to help tackle poverty before it becomes worse.
By failing to address poverty in a meaningful way, Parliamentarians and the Government are failing those very children that we are elected to help protect by creating a society that enables them to become well-rounded and successful adults.
Poverty is an issue which affects the life chances of children as they grow-up, through negative impacts on their health, education, and social and emotional wellbeing.
By sitting back and doing nothing, we are consigning those disadvantaged children to the same future as their parents by failing to break the cycle that traps generation after generation in poverty.
A report published back in 2013 found that child poverty costs the UK at least £29billion each year, and this doesn’t include the unmeasurable lost opportunities of every child who continues to be trapped in poverty.
The findings are stark and should act as a reminder of how important it is to continue the push to end child poverty. Not only for every individual child, but for society as a whole.
Research has also found that children from poorer backgrounds lag behind their more affluent peers at every stage of education.
By the age of 3, poorer children are estimated to be nine months behind those children from wealthier backgrounds.
And by the Department for Education’s own figures, by the end of primary school, pupils who are in receipt of a free school meal are estimated to be almost three terms behind their peers, rising to five terms at age 14, and by 16, this amounts to being 1.7 GCSE grades lower than their peers from more affluent backgrounds.
In regards to health, poverty is highly associated with a high risk of both illness and premature death.
Children from some of the poorest areas of the UK weigh 200 grams less at birth than those from the richest areas.
And poorer health over the course of those children’s lifetime will impact their life expectancy, with children who go on to have a career in a professional environment living 8 years longer than those who have an unskilled job.
Poverty also plays a part in the breakdown of communities and social cohesion, which are important to healthy and flourishing local communities.
For children from low-income families, they are often the ones who miss out on what many of us take for granted, such as school trips, not being able to invite their school friends round for tea, or families not being able to afford a one-week holiday away from home – regardless of if it is abroad or here in Britain.
Figures show that 1 in 3 families with young children in the UK are unable to afford a week’s holiday, with more than a million families not able to afford a day out during the summer.
These figures are deeply concerning, and are, reflected in my experiences as a local Member of Parliament.
Not long after being elected in 2005, I visited one of my local schools, in one of the more disadvantaged parts of my constituency, where I sat and had a conversation with the Headteacher about the experiences of the children at his school.
It really hit home when he told me that the children wouldn’t even leave the estate over the summer holidays, not even venturing to the Metrocentre or to the seaside at South Shields or Sunderland.
This failure to allow children to experience what other children may take as the accepted norm can cause tensions in school environments, from bullying from their peers or social isolation because they are seen as different or poor – when you are poor as a child you never want to admit it.
Not only does it cause social tensions, but it can have a lasting impact on a child’s educational attainment.
Providing children with experiences outside of what they are used to is only ever going to be beneficial to their life through broadening their horizons and allowing them to experience culture, history, and art to help make them realise that there is more to life outside of their estate – which becomes their entire world
Now turning to child hunger, which has always been a persistent issue in this country, and schools have always played a vital role in addressing this issue.
Child hunger and the intervention that schools can make goes as far back as 1906 when the then Member of Parliament for Bradford West, Fred Jowlett, used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to launch a campaign that would introduce school meals, not just that they should be free for the poor, but that there should be some form of provision in school in the first place.
Jowlett used his maiden speech to highlight his work on the Bradford’s School Board where he witnessed malnourished children falling behind their peers and argued that with the introduction of compulsory education, it was down to the Government to provide those children with the food necessary to sustain themselves throughout the school day.
Ironic how things have failed to change more than 100 years on.
Jowlett’s intervention led to the passing of the Provision of School Meals Act in 1906, which established a national strategy for local authorities to provide school meals for the very first time – and especially to the most disadvantaged children in our society.
Since then we have seen countless moments where school food has taken a step forward, and helped us address the issue of child hunger.
And I put myself in that camp right now as someone who is determined to drive forward the provision of food in our schools to help address child hunger, as I understand just how important food is to a child’s development.
Two of the most recent interventions into this century-old campaign have been: the publication of the School Food Plan by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby and the Feeding Britain report by my Parliamentary colleague, Frank Field, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Firstly, turning to John and Henry, after their tour of England to understand and see first-hand the food provision on offer in our children’s schools and after much research and fact-finding missions, they set out to write their report.
In their findings, they found:
- 57% of children were not eating school lunches at all
- Only 1% of packed lunches met nutritional standards of hot dinners, and;
- Studies have shown that hunger affects concentration and well-nourished children fared better at school.
And after all the lobbying I had done to get the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham – which were sadly scrapped by the incoming Coalition Government in 2011 - I was delighted when I picked up the report on the day of its publication and saw it say:
“Recommendation 17 – the government should embark upon a phased roll out of free school meals for all primary school children, beginning with the local authorities with the highest percentage of children already eligible for free school meals.”
And to this very day, I will never understand how they got Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, to agree to that recommendation. I was even more surprised when the Government then agreed to actually roll-out universal free school meals in 2014 albeit to just infant classes – all thanks to a deal between Cameron and Clegg over the Conservative’s pet project of a marriage tax allowance.
I have been a long-time advocate of universal free school meals, understanding the social, health, educational and behavioural benefits this policy can bring but also how vital it is to address child hunger.
As the pilots in Durham and Newham showed, healthy food was consumed more often.
Vegetable intake at lunchtime increased by 23 percent, whilst consumption of soft drinks fell by 16 percent and crisps by 18 percent.
Though the research is still proving the health benefits of this policy, it is undeniable that feeding a child a healthy school meal at lunch will have a knock-on effect on their health – helping to reverse health inequality trends connected with poverty.
Even in education terms, the children in the two pilot areas were two months ahead of their peers in other areas, whilst 4% more children achieved their expected grades at Key Stage 2.
Yet, with schools open for 190 days of the year, the other 175 days are just as important to help maintain the positive intervention seen through universal infant free school meals and healthier school food, and not allow holiday hunger to reverse this important work.
This is an area which needs a lot of policy development to ensure that children don’t fall back during the school holidays and return to school behind their peers in terms of their education and their health.
There are many who think that when the school gates lock for the school holidays, that it is none of our business about how a child eats, or doesn’t in some cases, when they are at home.
Yet, the evidence is clear, there is a growing problem and we cannot and should not allow it to continue.
This was referenced in Frank Field’s report from 2014 – which I mentioned earlier – which cited evidence provided to them that showed children from low-income families were often going hungry before school, which was exacerbated by a lack of routine and organisation at home.
Frank’s report recommended that Local Authorities should automatically register children of eligible parents for free school meals, as this also helps with maximising pupil premium funding – something which Frank has subsequently championed with his 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament.
Other recommendations called for the Government to cost the extension of free school meal provision during the school holidays – something that I very much welcome and believe the Government should look at further to understand the costings of how this could be achieved in the future.
There have also been countless studies and surveys which have highlighted the growing concern of holiday hunger.
A Kellogg’s survey from last year found that:
- 39 percent of teachers said pupils in their schools did not get enough food over the school holidays, and;
- A third of parents had skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the school holidays.
Pair this with the huge increase in the use of food banks over the summer holidays, where food bank usage by children is nearly 30,000 for the financial year 2015-16 here in the North East, compared to 23,000 in 2013-14.
That’s a 30% increase in just two years.
That is why, just like with addressing issues that I mentioned earlier about the impact of poverty on a child’s life chances, we cannot allow the hard work gone into a child’s attainment during school terms to be reversed during school holidays, just because some people think it is a step to far.
Those children won’t think that. All they think about is having a meal in their tummy that will sustain them and perhaps something to do other than roam the streets of their estate for 13 weeks every year.
That is why, as I mentioned at the beginning, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School, which I chair, set up the Holiday Hunger Task Group after writing a position paper in 2013 which highlighted our concerns.
It was our belief that we must understand this issue further and develop practical policy for Parliamentarians to consider implementing.
The expert panel which makes up the Task Group and is led by Lindsay Graham has gone from strength to strength.
In June 2015, the Holiday Hunger Task Group held its first conference with academics, charities, local authorities and specialists all coming together to launch the Filling the Holiday Gap guidelines.
These voluntary guidelines were published to be used by any organisation, local authority or school who wish to provide food during their holiday provision, such as summer camps, holiday clubs or educational fun days, and use the guide to provide the healthiest and most nutritious food possible to ensure those children received that vital healthy meal they need.
The guidance was met with great support, and following its publication the Task Group published their Update Report in November which provided a snapshot of holiday provision – which included food – and current on-going research across the UK.
This included activities provided here in Durham by 17 churches through the Communities Together scheme, which included activities such as drama, crafts, sports and cooking and as part of the programme, they fed over 3000 children and adults with healthy picnics, BBQs and full two course homemade meals.
The report also called on the Government to do more to help develop holiday food provision and carry out research into the scale of child hunger in the UK and the effects it has on learning.
Currently the APPG’s Task Group, with the support of Northumbria University, is undergoing a mapping exercise to help understand the scale of holiday provision in England.
This will allow us the chance to fully understand where there is provision and where there is not.
It will also help us highlight best practice across the country so that it can be shared amongst local authorities, organisations and schools to ensure that the best possible provision is in place to help those children who need our support during the school holidays.
This will be an important step forward in our work on child holiday hunger and will give us evidence that can be used to push ahead on this agenda, especially lobbying the Government; and I hope that everyone in the room today can help with this.
Poverty is not inevitable.
Poverty is a symptom of lack of action, lack of innovative thinking and lack of political will by government to tackle the issue.
If the Government cannot harness action in these three areas to help address child poverty, and child hunger, then we will continue to see swathes of the next generation and the generation after that continue to be trapped in this perpetual cycle of poverty which is not only bad for them and their families but us as a society.
Instead of allowing people to languish and become despondent members of society, we should be reaching out a hand to them and supporting them to reach their true potential.
No child, no matter their circumstances, background or need, should be allowed to wallow in poverty and miss out on the opportunities that life in this great country of ours can bring.
Children deserve the best childhood possible, and we owe them just that.
That is why I hope following today’s conference that we all go out there and lobby this Government to do the right thing and make sure that no child is left hungry or in poverty.
Sharon speaks at Child Poverty Conference in Durham 06.06.16
Sharon recently spoke at a conference held by Durham County Council's Education department on child poverty, where she spoke about her work on addressing child hunger as Chair of the...