As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon outlined Labour's support for measures in the Plan but raised concerns about how the cuts to public health budgets may hinder the Plan's goals.
You can read the full debate here: Tobacco Control Plan Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17
You can read Sharon's speech pasted below.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate, Sharon called for a pause on the use of the product whilst NICE update their guidance and for a public inquiry into the issue to fully understand the scale of what has happened and the women affected.
You can read the full debate here in Hansard: Vaginal Mesh Westminster Hall Debate 18.10.17
You can read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate,...
At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public health and also the importance of addressing the social determinants of health.
You can read Sharon's speech below.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
It is wonderful to be with you today to discuss an important issue: public health.
Labour has always believed in the importance of championing our public health needs, staff and services.
It is without a shadow of a doubt that health is a crucial area of policy for any government, and especially when the future of our public services are an important issue for many people.
Health, therefore, should be given the prominence it deserves, as it affects all of our lives.
It must be a top priority of any government to not only improve the health of our nation, so that we can be more productive in our working and social lives, but also ensure that our NHS is fighting fit for the future.
Labour – as a government-in-waiting – are prepared for this task.
Yet, it is safe to say, that the NHS as it stands now is not as fighting fit as it should be due to continued Tory negligence. Jeremy Hunt likes to snipe back that this is Labour talking down the NHS, but the reality of the situation is we are fighting to defend it from his attacks.
The saying remains true: you can never trust the Tories with our NHS.
That is why over the last year, Labour’s Shadow Health team – led by Jonathan Ashworth – have held the Tories feet to the fire and held them accountable for their actions, or inaction, when it comes to the NHS – we are not letting them get away with anything!
Labour founded the NHS, and it is Labour who will save the NHS. We will never allow it to be treat as second best. It is far too precious to allow that to happen.
These pressures we talk about were laid bare in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Refresh, published in March, which showed the true scale of the challenges facing the health service.
Whilst on the face of it there were welcome measures, it was clear if you read between the lines, that the Government have failed to give the NHS the funding it needs but also deserves.
This is especially true when it comes to public health, which we saw fall from being the third top priority in the vision to being slotted into the NHS 10-point Efficiency Plan.
Whilst public health can save the NHS and other health services a lot of money and time, it should not solely be about cost-savings but should be the driver that supports us all to live healthier lives.
This means championing better public health in our country which focuses on tackling the entrenched health inequalities we see in society, with the permeation of ill-health seen in our communities and ensuring our NHS is fighting fit going into the future.
This last point is something I touched upon when I spoke to the North East’s branch of the Socialist Health Association in January of this year; where I criticised the flopped “radical upgrade in prevention and public health” promised in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.
It was clear in January, just as it is clear now, that whilst we are seeing initiatives to improve public health, they are not going far enough – which is deeply concerning.
This is what I call the “public health crisis”. What we have is the crisis in our NHS, manufactured by the Tories, which is having a knock-on effect on public health, as it leaves little space to invest money or time.
This negligence of public health is all down to a lack of political will to step up to the plate and act on determinants of poor health, but the short-sighted cuts we are seeing too.
The scale and impact of these cuts were identified earlier this year, when the King’s Fund analysed DCLG data on local authority public health spending, following the settled landscape of all the reforms and shifting of responsibilities since 2013.
And the prognosis was not good.
The King’s Fund identified the biggest losers in percentage terms were sexual health promotion and prevention, and wider tobacco control; both of which face eye-watering cuts of more than 30 percent.
The conclusion of the analysis was damning to say the very least: “… there is little doubt that we are now entering the realm of real reductions in public health services. This is a direct result of the reduced priority that central government gives to public health.”
This is creating a perfect storm that future generations will have to weather. Irresponsibility of the highest form of this Government.
It is our moral duty not to put off dealing with public health issues until a later date. One, because it causes problems for future generations and two, it can have serious ramifications for our NHS.
It is a belief of mine – and one I know others in the room will share – that we must deal with issues at the source rather than further down-stream.
That is why it is important that Labour, working in tandem with the Socialist Health Association and others, promotes a better vision for public health.
At the snap General Election, Labour offered a visionary and forward-thinking approach to public health, which renewed our commitment as a Party to keep people fit and well.
Much of what we focused on was to do with children and our promise to make Britain’s children the healthiest in the world – an ambition I have championed ever since becoming an MP.
Though we focused on children – this does not mean what we were proposing would not have health benefits for adults, as our policies would have created healthier environments for everyone.
Our main pledge focused around clamping down on management consultancy costs in the NHS, which would recoup £250 million into the Treasury coffers and would be earmarked to fund our Child Health Fund, whilst we passed a Child Health Bill in Parliament.
Both of these initiatives would provide us with the legislative capacity to ensure all departments inputted into a cross-departmental childhood obesity strategy to ensure every action taken by Government took into consideration the health of future generations, the Child Health Fund would help: it would implement the strategy, grow our public health workforce; support local authorities with health promotion; and, administer our Index of Child Health – to measure progress on four key indicators of children’s health: obesity, dental health, mental health and early years.
Yet, we didn’t stop there, we made clear that we would go further than the Tories’ dismal Childhood Obesity Plan and implement a ban on adverts promoting unhealthy food during primetime television – such as X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent – which is estimated to reduce children’s viewing of junk food advertising by 82%.
We also set out that we would ring-fence public health budgets to protect services into the future, instead of seeing them wither on the vine as we have seen under the Tories.
Though at present we are not in government to implement these ideas, this does not mean that we are taking child health of our radar. Far from it.
As Jonathan announced at the beginning of the summer, Labour will be establishing a Child Health Forum, so we can work with experts to design a programme we can implement in Government so we can be proud of our record on improving children’s health.
And I hope as many of you will help feed into this on-going work and contact Jon.
But it is not just children’s health we must improve, it is everyone’s health.
Improving the health of our country is a matter of social justice – one of the core principles of the Labour Party.
Health inequality is an issue which we must continually work on to get right. Complacency should never be accepted as the norm when it comes to the health of our society.
That is why we must do all that we can to address health inequality.
We all know the conclusion of the facts around health inequality: people in more deprived areas of the country do not live as long or with as good health, compared to those in more affluent areas.
This is health inequality in its most brutal form.
This was why Sir Michael Marmot was right to say in his 2010 report that there is a social gradient in health: the lower a person’s social position, the worse his or her health will be.
Sadly, this is something we have yet to see materialise in public health policy, with report after report arguing that we have not made serious inroads into health inequalities.
That is why we must have a renewed campaign to address the social injustices of ill-health. We must do more.
This is a stark realisation when only a couple of weeks ago, Sir Michael Marmot made an important, and eloquent, intervention into the discourse around health inequalities.
He said: “the UK is becoming the sick men and women of Europe.”
In his letter to the Times, Marmot identified that from 2011 to 2015, the increase in life expectancy was the slowest in Europe amongst women and the second slowest amongst men. This is worrying when from 1920 to 2010, life expectancy rose from 55 to 78 for men and 59 to 82 for women; roughly a one-year rise every four years.
Yet, in such a short period of time, we have seen the work of previous governments stalled by the current government, who as we know have not taken the health of our country seriously.
We know exactly why this is: this is down to the government’s choices around austerity.
As I previously mentioned, we have seen public health services slashed, an NHS facing unprecedented pressures, social care and education crippled and people’s living standards weakened.
Each of these have serious ramifications on our health.
Marmot may have been more reserved in his suggestions about the impact of austerity, but we all know it has been a significant factor to the increase in poor health in our society.
How can it be right in the 21st century for a child to be born into a family living on a poor council estate and grow up with completely different life chances and health outcomes than a child born to a more affluent family.
If this does not raise concern, then what will?
Social justice and equal opportunity are central to Labour values, and it is important that we reflect these in how we approach our health policies too.
This is something that I have supported in the past, and still do to this day, including championing the 1001 Critical Days initiative which works to ensure that a child’s formative months and years help set them up for the future.
Along with doggedly championing universal free school meals for the last 10 years, but also pushing on smoking and sexual health issues during my time as Shadow Minister for Public Health.
But it also means taking action for people now – who have been failed in their early lives.
A Labour Government would make social justice a driver of all government policy, but it would also ensure that the health of the nation is considered in every step we take.
Labour in opposition in Parliament and where we are in power across the country are doing just that, now.
Take for example, the excellent work of my colleague, Sue Hayman – Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary – who has been leading the way on air quality and holding the Government to account on improving the environment we live in.
Or ensuring families have decent, affordable housing to live in, rather than squalid private accommodation, as being done by our Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Or working to improve transport infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles, such as that pledged by Andy Burnham in Manchester.
Or in Wales, where we have seen the Welsh Labour Government give powers to Public Health Wales to scrutinise new legislation’s impact on health.
Labour has, and always will be, a proud champion of improved public health and ensuring it is considered as part of everything that we do.
But it is important that we create systems where this is easier to do, and not just rely upon the values that drive us in the Labour Party, but instead embed them into the system.
This is why I am interested to work more to improve the roles of Public Health England and local Directors of Public Health to ensure the health of our nation is kept high on the agenda.
It is initiatives like those I have mentioned which will help ensure that the social determinants of health are addressed, but it also about injecting innovative thinking into our approach to public health.
By injecting innovation and utilising our political will, we can ensure the gap in health inequalities will shrink further and health outcomes improve.
We must fully realise the vision set out in the Five Year Forward View as a promise to not only ourselves, but to the generations that come after us.
It is important that we work together to create and implement health policy that brings about real change for those who live in poor health; we cannot continue to allow people’s health to be determined by factors completely out of their control.
Every one of us in this room shares that passion and drive to improve our nation’s health.
We know we will never take our nation’s health for granted.
There is still a long way to go to improve our nation’s health, but with our collective passion, we can achieve a more equal, socially just, and most importantly, healthier society.
At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public...
In her capacity as Chair of the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG, Sharon spoke at the Annual General Meeting of the Artists Union England held in Newcastle.
In her speech, Sharon spoke about the importance of trade unionism, the need for artists to collectively work together and across the labour movement on issues affecting artists, and the importance of art and creativity to society.
You can read Sharon's speech below.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you. It is an honour to be invited to speak at your AGM.
For those who don’t know who I am, I’m Sharon Hodgson, the Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health.
However, I am here to talk to you in another of my many capacities, and that is as an advocate for the arts in our society, along with being the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education.
I have been an advocate for the arts for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament; understanding not just how important art can be to the wellbeing of society, but also, how important art can be to our economy as well.
These are both points I will touch upon in my speech today, but also about the importance of unionism.
As a proud trade unionist myself, I believe it is important for workers to unionise so they can collectively work together to improve their working environment and working life.
Unions are crucial in providing workers with a voice in the workplace that stands up for them, and this is why it is welcome to see artists – like yourselves – unionising.
We all know the exploitative pay and conditions that artists can face and the fact that artists are working more, for less pay; sometimes even for free.
Unionising also allows artists to show solidarity with other workers by affiliating to umbrella union groups such as the TUC, to work on shared campaigns from campaigning against cuts in art education or on pay and conditions.
That is why it is welcome that Art Union England is now an affiliated member of the TUC and attended the conference for the first time last week, where you raised the key issues of art and investment.
Art and the creative sectors that you all work in are crucial to society and our economy, and have a significant presence.
The latest figures show that the creative industries contributed £87 billion to the UK economy – that work out at roughly 5% of the total. Whilst the sector employed nearly 2 million people, around 6% of all UK jobs.
This just goes to show the importance of art to our society, and how we must ensure we help nurture this sector to continue to flourish.
This is why working with other unions to ensure that the views of artists are heard by Government, politicians and wider society is so important but also to consider different and innovative ways to ensure that art continues to remain a central part of our lives.
I read with interest the motion tabled by AUE at TUC conference in Brighton, which called for an agreement to be made amongst affiliated members that “1 percent of any new-build construction, renovation, conversion or major refurbishment … be spent on buying or commissioning of public art.” Or as it is commonly known Percent for Art schemes.
When reading further into this, it was interesting to see policies similar to this have been around in the USA and other European countries for a number of years. Take New York for example, which saw a policy like this introduced in 1982 and since then has seen nearly 300 projects completed with accumulated art work commissions of over $41 million.
This reaffirms the belief I have held for so long on the importance of art to society.
For me, art has been an integral part of our humanity ever since the dawn of time when the first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall.
This is because art makes our hearts sing and therefore should be enjoyed by everybody, without any restrictions on access to great projects.
As the “A Policy for the Arts” white paper published back in 1965 by Jennie Lee, the first arts minister appointed in the UK by Harold Wilson, said art: “should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life.”
This is why a policy which incorporates art as a part of the commissioning process and spending on major public projects helps allow art to be a central part of public life, but also helps to reverse the concerning erosion of art in society due to short-sighted budget cuts.
Access to art in society is something I have campaigned on, including fighting to protect ancient heritage crafts to ensuring children have access to art that allows them to expand their horizons - but one of my main campaigns has been around the EBacc.
This is something that I have campaigned on in my capacity as Chair of the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG, and I have worked closely with the National Society for Education in Art and Design and the Bacc to the Future campaign.
I have repeatedly called on the Government to address this issue – even bringing Nick Gibb, the school’s minister, before the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG for nearly an hour and a half to discuss the impact of the EBacc on art subjects.
However, the concerns that this is negatively affecting the pipeline continue to go ignored.
This is deeply worrying when the latest figures released following last month’s GCSE results showed a fall in the number of young people taking an Art and Design GCSE for the second consecutive year with the total number being the lowest since 2001, at a total of 3.2 per cent.
The current position we see is one of creative industries booming but education policies failing to recognise creativity will be one of the main drivers of our 21st century economy.
This is why it is important to have unions such as yourselves standing up for art – may it be through advocating for better financial support for the arts within wider infrastructure projects or against the disastrous policies facing our education sector.
As artists, you all have the knowledge and experience to go to the Government and lobby against the worst excesses of their policies and ensure that the next generation of artists after you are supported to achieve great things.
The way to do this is collectively and working across the labour movement – with other arts unions, such as the musician’s union and with education unions, such as the National Education Union and NASUWT, but with the Labour Party too.
So, I wish you luck in the future as your union grows and look forward to working with you all in the future to ensure that art continues to make our hearts sing.
Collectively we can work to stop art from withering away and save an essential part of our humanity.
We must fight to protect art, champion art and invest in art at every possible opportunity.
In her capacity as Chair of the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG, Sharon spoke at the Annual General Meeting of the Artists Union England held in Newcastle. In...
Following concerns that the Department of Health was ignoring the concerns of the contaminated blood community about the Department's involvement in setting up the inquiry, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition during an Urgent Question called by Diana Johnson MP.
You can read the full debate in Hansard here.
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is disappointing that we are here again today, so soon after last week’s announcement. A week ago, this House united in agreement to finally facilitate justice for those tragically affected by this scandal. Yet, as we have heard, in recent days Ministers have reneged on last week’s promises and run roughshod over the affected community.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Philip Dunne)
The Minister of State may shake his head, but that is how the community feel; we have spoken to them. There are three key questions that the Under-Secretary before us this morning must answer, and I hope she will be more forthcoming with much-needed answers than she was to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson).
Understandably, the community have deeply held suspicions when it comes to the Department of Health, so why are Ministers ignoring these concerns and the demands to facilitate an inquiry through another Department, such as the Ministry of Justice? This concern has been well documented in the letter to the Prime Minister by my hon. Friend, the Haemophilia Society, the 10 campaign groups and the law firms Collins Law and Leigh Day. Why does the Minister think the Government can so easily disregard all these people?
Events over the past few days have shown that last week’s promise to consult, engage and listen to the community was simply warm words. The audacious move to hold a roundtable meeting this morning with so little notice to potential attendees from throughout the UK has hindered many from being involved in the process of setting up the inquiry. Will Ministers explain why the meeting was held at such short notice? Who did they plan to invite so that the meeting was properly consultative? In the end, who was scheduled to attend following the mass boycott by many of those invited, who felt that the offer of a meeting was a slap in the face?
It is important that the inquiry is held sooner rather than later, but not at the risk of jeopardising justice. Will the Minister publicly outline, now, the timetable for the inquiry? Do the Government intend to initiate the inquiry in September? If so, why has that not been made public? Why is it that we must bring Ministers to the House again to make this clear? Does that not go against everything we were promised last week? The Minister must remember the promises made just last week and ensure that consultation is central to the whole process; otherwise, the Government will fail this community, who must have the justice they so rightly deserve.
Following concerns that the Department of Health was ignoring the concerns of the contaminated blood community about the Department's involvement in setting up the inquiry, Sharon responded on behalf of...
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate secured by Dan Jarvis MP on the need for the Government to consider the introduction of an opt-out organ donation system to improve organ donation in England.
You can read the full debate on Hansard here.
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate secured by Dan Jarvis MP on the need for the Government to consider the introduction of...
Following the successful application for an Emergency Debate by Diana Johnson MP on the Contaminated Blood Scandal, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition with the need to hold this inquiry and how this inquiry should be conducted.
You can read the full debate on Hansard here.
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.
First and foremost, thanks must go to my outstanding hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who has so valiantly campaigned on this issue for numerous years now. Without her and the dedicated resolve of her and all those she cited who have been involved in this campaign, we would not be where we are today. Thanks must also go to the former Member for Leigh, Andy Burnham, for the debate he led at the end of the previous Parliament, for which I had the honour of being present. He helped to add expediency to this issue with his commitment to go to the police with the evidence he has if the Government failed to come forward with an inquiry to seek justice for those who have been neglected
For too long, the contaminated blood community have been simply failed by their Government and ignored by those who have let the demands of those affected fall on deaf ears, leaving the community without justice. It is very welcome—as we have heard in the news in the past hour and a half or so—that an inquiry may finally be happening, and I look forward to hearing further details from the Minister when he responds. I am grateful that he and you, Mr Speaker, have allowed me to speak first so that he can answer the questions I pose. This is a rather unusual format, and I had no prior knowledge that it was going to be changed. I hope that other Members who speak and pose questions will get a response from the Minister; I do not know whether he will get two bites at the cherry or will have to intervene to answer other Members’ questions.
This emergency debate is timely and allows the House to have its voice heard fully, which is right after the decades of neglect the contaminated blood community has faced. At any point prior to 12.30 pm, when the announcement was made in the news, the Minister could have come forward and made a statement. That would have saved my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North from having to apply for an emergency debate yesterday. It feels like the order of things has been a little forced, and it is sad that it has had to be forced in this way. But we are where we are.
Labour Members are resolutely in favour of a Hillsborough-style public inquiry, as we made clear in our manifesto a couple of months ago—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I pushed for that to be included. The Labour party believes that that style of inquiry would get to the heart of the problems that unfolded in the 1980s and hold to account those who were to blame for this scandal, before it is too late. It is not just our party, but all the parties—especially those on the Opposition Benches—that have made a commitment to stand up for those people seeking justice. That was so clearly documented in the joint letter, which was published on Sunday, from the leaders of every single opposition party here in this House, including, I am pleased to say, of the Democratic Unionist party.
Last November, in a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, we discussed a whole host of issues that this community faces, including how people could be compensated for the terrible events that have occurred. Today, we are here to debate the fight for justice, which should have happened a lot sooner.
In my contribution, I want to impress on the Minister two key points: first, that the previous two inquiries have, categorically, not been sufficient in seeking justice, which is why a Hillsborough-style inquiry must be actioned; and secondly, that the evidence presented so far is clear that if we are to have truth and reconciliation after the murky covering up of this scandal, then the strongest of daylight must be shone on every aspect, leaving no stone unturned.
The two previous inquiries—the Archer inquiry in 2009 and the Penrose inquiry in Scotland in 2015—did not go far enough in the eyes of the affected community in getting the truth and justice that they deserve. The Archer inquiry, which was not Government-backed, failed because there were no Department of Health witnesses giving evidence to the convened panel. The Penrose inquiry also did not go far enough in seeking the truth, as it was unable to compel witnesses from outside Scotland when, at the time of the scandal, most, if not all, of the decisions were made in Whitehall. That failure to compel witnesses to attend from outside Scotland meant that the inquiry failed to provide the justice and answers that people from right across the UK deserved.
There are many allegations around this scandal, ranging from Department of Health officials destroying evidence as part of the cover-up, to victims’ medical details being tampered with to hide the cause of their infections.
Two of my constituents have two particular matters that they want the inquiry to consider: first, one said that he was infected with hepatitis C and exposed to the HIV virus, but was not informed of that by the NHS until years afterwards and he wants to be assured that the inquiry will reveal why the truth was hidden; the second wants to know about this issue of doctors and scientists being paid by the drug companies and about the precise nature of those deals. He thinks that those deals have to be really properly and rigorously exposed by this inquiry, so that we can get to the bottom of whatever vested interests existed during this scandal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The evidence on those things has been well documented, especially by the former Member for Leigh and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North. Those who have lived with these conditions; who are brave enough to come forward; and who are at the sharp end of this heinous negligence and the recent uncovering reported in the Daily Mail last week have proved just how important it is that a Hillsborough-style inquiry is set up.
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the report, “Self Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales” is unauthorised, and could possibly be perpetuating inaccuracies and outright lies, as my constituent says in a letter to me?
All of this evidence will have to be examined. In recent days, constituents affected by this scandal have been in contact with my office with intricate details that must be addressed. It is important that those questions, no matter how small they may be, are answered, as they reflect the issues that have inextricably affected that person’s whole life. It is most important that those issues are addressed, so that those who have lived with the ramifications of this serious negligence can finally have the justice that they deserve.
Getting to the bottom of the allegations and the evidence and having a full and frank inquiry that brings justice for the many people affected are the reasons why we must have this inquiry. As the joint letter by the Opposition leaders said, if a panel were to be convened, it must disclose any and all documents related to the scandal, which involves the victims at every stage; and it must compel all parties involved to participate in the disclosure process and not to hinder justice any further. It must also investigate the events leading up to an individual’s infection and the aftermath, including allegations of medical details being tampered with, whether people were unknowingly tested for viruses without their knowledge and whether enough was done to identify those at risk of infection. As part of this inquiry, there must also be an investigation into the role of profit-making American firms, which supplied the blood factor concentrates to people with haemophilia.
Although none of this will bring back loved ones and those who have died as a consequence of this scandal, or change the life circumstances of those who are alive today living with these conditions inflicted on them, there is still something that we can do, which is to hold an inquiry. It is the very least that we can do. The thousands of people affected by this scandal must be supported and we must stand beside them in seeking justice, as that is our duty as elected representatives of the public.
I want to conclude with this final remark: none of us here has a magic wand—I know that our constituents think that we do—and we cannot turn back time and stop this scandal from happening. Sadly, that power does not exist, but the power that does exist, at the behest of the Minister before us today, is that of facilitating the justice for those who live with the aftermath of this scandal. Here, today, we can send a message—a loud and strong message to those who campaign on this issue day in, day out—that Parliament has listened and is on their side. We in this House have heard them; we in this House are there with them; and we in this House will do all that we can for them in their quest for justice. We cannot let them down. We can help facilitate the truth once and for all. Parliament is listening to the individuals who have spent decades fighting against the system to get the truth that they seek, and the Government must listen to Parliament. Parliament is saying: fix this, provide those thousands of people who never asked for this to happen to them with the justice that they so rightly deserve. We cannot fail them any longer.
Following the successful application for an Emergency Debate by Diana Johnson MP on the Contaminated Blood Scandal, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition with the need to hold this...
Following her long campaign on the issue of ticket touting, Sharon spoke in the Digital Economy Bill: Consideration of Lord's Amendments debate on the need for the Government to accept the amendment on banning the misuse of bots and to continue to to address the abuses in the secondary ticketing market.
You can read the full debate on Hansard here.
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.
Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman, who I have got to know very well in our time campaigning on this issue during this and the last Parliament. It is a real delight that we have reached this stage and I rise to speak in favour of Lords amendments 246 and 247 on the resale of tickets. It is with great delight that I welcome the news that the Government accept those Lords amendments and that they will make it on to the statute book before this Parliament dissolves.
It goes without saying that we would not be in this position without the concerted cross-party campaigning to put fans first in this broken market. None of that would have happened without the campaigning by me and others over the years. The list is very long, so I hope that the House will indulge me. It includes the steadfast support received from my own party’s Front Benchers, especially in recent years. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), made an excellent speech today; I sincerely hope that she will be returned so that she can continue in that vein.
Conservative Members have also given support, including, most notably in the last Parliament, Mike Weatherley, the former Member for Hove and Portslade, who I know is a friend of the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). Mike Weatherley and I founded and co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. In recent years, the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and other members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, including the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—I was going to say the gentleman sitting over there wearing a red tie, but that would have made me sound like David Dimbleby—have worked tirelessly on its investigation into the secondary ticketing market. I sincerely hope that the Committee will pick up on the issue again in the next Parliament, so that all of the inquiry’s hard work is not lost. I am sure that that will happen.
I also acknowledge the Minister’s customary good humour and willingness to listen, which, along with the work of shadow Front Benchers in the Lords and those who tabled the amendments, has ensured that we have reached a satisfactory conclusion. I also thank the Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in the Chamber. More than three years ago, when she was a Home Office Minister, she met me and the former Member for Hove and Portslade to discuss the fraud aspect of this issue. That proves that Ministers have long memories, so such meetings are worth it.
In response to a point raised by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), we are clear that section 93 of the Consumer Rights Act requires secondary sellers to provide information on ticket restrictions on resale.
Excellent. I was going to come on to that issue, following on from the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty. I will have to remember not to press the Minister on it, because he has already addressed it. That is welcome and I am pleased that he has put it on the record.
I also commend the sterling work over many years by colleagues on both sides of the House of Lords. Way back in 1997, the Labour peer Lord Pendry, the then shadow Sports Minister, was the first to coin the phrase, “put fans first”, so I cannot claim credit for that, as I did not invent it. He campaigned on the issue way back then, but sadly for him and, indeed, for us, he was not made a Minister in the Government that followed, so he was not able to ensure that this happened 20 years ago. That shows that this day has been a very long time coming.
More recent contributions have been made by Lord Stevenson and Baroness Hayter from the Labour Front Bench, Lord Clement-Jones of the Liberal Democrats and the amazingly talented late Baroness Heyhoe Flint of the Conservatives, who tabled the first relevant amendments in the Lords and who sadly passed away a few months ago. She was a joy to work with. Without this campaign I would never have had the chance to know her and I wish I could have had that privilege for longer.
I also want to give a special mention to the former Sports Minister and Conservative peer, Lord Moynihan, whose renowned tenacity during debates on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the wash-up at the end of the last Parliament ensured that we got certain measures on to the statute book. Without him, we would not have progressed to where we are now, as we would still be at base camp waiting for the weather to shift. He has been the most amazing ally and expert in this crusade, and all fans across the country who are not ripped off in the future should know his name and thank him.
Having finished the thank yous, I turn to the business at hand. Lords amendments 246 and 247 will take us one step closer to ensuring that fans are finally put first in the secondary market, something has been sorely lacking for years. At this point, I was going to press the Minister on the point that he has clarified, so I thank him again for doing so. Accepting the Lords amendments is a fitting way to end this Parliament, and I am confident that any residual issues will be picked up quickly once Parliament returns following the general election.
None of us know or can predict what will happen come polling day, but if the good people of Washington and Sunderland West re-elect me, and if other Members present are re-elected by their constituents, I will definitely get right back to businesses and pick up where we leave off today, because there are plenty more issues to continue to campaign on. We have taken one step closer, granted, but we are still far from our cross-party vision of a fair market that ensures that fans are not ripped off.
We need to consider the enforcement of current legislation, such as that which is being investigated by the Consumer Markets Authority, as the Chair of the Select Committee mentioned. We need to support the victims of viagogo, who, as the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty mentioned, have been unfairly and ripped off by one of the worst players in this market, which, disgracefully, did not attend the Select Committee when called to do so. We should definitely revisit that question to see whether there are ways to force companies that have their head office overseas to come and give evidence in this place. It seems wrong that they can evade that by saying that they are not based in the UK when all their customers are based in the UK. We should also ensure that the Waterson review’s recommendations are implemented fully and effectively. The list of things that we need to put right could go on, but those are just a few of the many issues that must be picked up in the next Parliament.
Finally, I want to again thank the Minister, the Secretary of State, my Front-Bench colleagues, Members from across the House and our colleagues in the other place for committing so much time to this campaign. For the early part of the past eight years, I felt like a lone warrior, but I have welcomed the momentum and support from Members of both Houses that have built up around the campaign. That momentum cannot slow when the newly elected House returns in June. Fans deserve for us to campaign for them at every opportunity and to put them first. Let us all commit to continue to fight for them until this market is cleaned up, then our work will be done.
Following her long campaign on the issue of ticket touting, Sharon spoke in the Digital Economy Bill: Consideration of Lord's Amendments debate on the need for the Government to accept...
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...
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...