A child’s access to healthy food should not be quibbled over.
I wish to express my utter and complete condemnation for Vladimir Putin and his administration as it wages an invasion in Ukraine, killing innocent civilians and wounding many more. I have been working closely with colleagues to ensure that the Government offers the best route to asylum for Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homes as their brave soldiers repel the Russian invaders.
But, closer to home, this week I raised the issue of regional food inequality in Parliament.
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, recently visited the ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ programme at Rickleton Cricket Club, Washington.
The ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ programme, which is funded by the Department for Education’s Holiday Activity and Food Programme, has been supporting children and young people with a range of fun activities and food throughout the summer holidays.
The ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ bus has been travelling around Sunderland bringing different activities to different areas across the city.
On Wednesday when Sharon visited, the children were taking part in a huge range of activities including smoothie making, boxing, boot camp and circus skills. There was also lots of hot and healthy food available.
The Holiday Activity and Food Programme was announced in 2020 by the Department for Education. It provides funding to Local Authorities. The funding covers Easter, summer and Christmas holidays in 2021 only.
Speaking at the ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ bus, Sharon said:
“It was great to see the children and young people enjoying the Wear Here 4 Summer programme. They’ve had some fantastic activities and delicious food over the school holidays.
“As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, I have been campaigning for many years for the Government to introduce funding for food and activities for children on the approximately 170 days a year when the school gates are shut.
“This programme will no doubt have had a positive impact on children across Sunderland this summer. That is why I believe the Government’s Holiday Activity and Food Programme should be available for all school holidays during the pandemic and beyond.”
Sharon Hodgson MP has today (Tuesday 16th June) welcomed the Government’s U-turn on funding free school meals over the summer holidays.
(Photo from National School Meals Week, 2018)
This U-turn follows the Labour Party’s ‘Holidays without Hunger’ campaign and Manchester United, Marcus Rashford’s letter to all MPs calling for the U-turn.
3,616 children in Washington and Sunderland West are eligible for Free School Meals and will benefit from the extension of funding for free school meals provision over the summer holidays.
With the added pressure of the Coronavirus crisis plunging families into deeper poverty and social distancing as well as added pressures raising questions on whether the usual holiday lunch schemes may run, many families are rightly concerned about how they will afford food during the summer holidays.
Sharon, who has been campaigning on free school meals since becoming an MP in 2005, said:
“Like Marcus Rashford, I grew up on free school meals, so I know how important they are to families on low incomes.
“That is why I set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food in 2010 to campaign for better free school meal provision.
“This isn’t a new problem, we know that some children go hungry during the summer holidays in ‘normal’ times. But we aren’t in ‘normal’ times.
“I welcome the Government’s U-turn on this, but they should never have delayed on this. They were shamed into backing down instead of doing the right thing in the first place.
“Children are at a heightened risk of going hungry this summer as the Covid-19 crisis hits family incomes, and charities and food banks struggle to provide the same level of holiday support.
“I will continue to join MPs, charities, organisations and Local Authorities to campaign to keep the importance of free school meals and holiday hunger on the agenda at all times, not just during a pandemic.”
Notes to Editors
1. Nearly 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals which are usually provided in school during term-time. However, while schools have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic a voucher scheme has been established instead. Schools are also able to provide alternative provision, such as food packs, which can be claimed for from the Department of Education.
2. The voucher scheme provides £15 worth of vouchers a week per child eligible for free school meals which can be redeemed in the following supermarkets: Aldi, Asda, M&S, McColl’s, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools
3. In England’s poorest areas, summer holiday hunger schemes are being starved of cash, leaving many children short of food (2019) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/14/uk-holiday-hunger-schemes-deprived-children-summer
4. Labour’s ‘Holidays without Hunger’ campaign launched on Sunday 14th June. For more information click here: http://labour.org.uk/holidayswithouthunger/
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food (APPG), Sharon has today written to Sean Harford, National Director of Schools at Ofsted about healthy eating in schools.
In 2015, Sean wrote to Sharon to say that Ofsted was committed to giving wellbeing, health and healthy eating a more prominent place in inspections. However, four years on, the new draft Ofsted inspection framework and handbooks do not mention healthy eating, school food or food education.
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon spoke in a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a £7,400 net income threshold for families on Universal Credit and eligibility for free school meals. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns that the threshold would see over 1 million children in poverty miss out on a free school meal.
You can read the full debate here: Universal Credit and Free School Meals
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
These regulations will affect millions of families up and down the country, so it is only right that we are able to discuss them today. The Government consulted from November to January on introducing an earnings threshold that would restrict free school meals to families with net earnings under £7,400 per annum. The consultation received 8,981 responses. However, the Government excluded 8,421 of those responses from their analysis, meaning that fewer than 4% of respondents agreed with the Government. Surely that goes against every rule of public consultations. Talk about statistics being used against vulnerable people!
In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions promised in the White Paper on universal credit that it would
“ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay. Universal Credit will mean that people will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
I am glad that my hon. Friend has picked out that point. She will have heard the Secretary of State saying that jobcentres would advise people not to take extra work or to get a pay rise because they would end up worse off. Is that not absolutely contrary to the whole principle of universal credit that she has just read out?
Yes, absolutely. We know that the Government are today reneging on the former Secretary of State’s commitment.
Free school meals are worth far more to a family than £400 a year per child. That might not seem to be a lot to some hon. Members, but to those families it is an absolute lifeline. By introducing a £7,400 threshold for eligibility, the Government are forcibly creating a cliff edge that will be detrimental to families, especially children. To give just one example, someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200-worth of free school meals if they work only a few extra hours or get a pay rise. The Opposition’s proposal would simply remove the huge cliff edge and the work disincentive for families who most need support. It would take away the barrier to working extra hours or seeking promotion. Our proposals would therefore make work pay. The Government’s proposal is in fact the new 16 hours, which they said was a disincentive.
Mike Hill (Harlepool) (Lab):
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Hartlepool, where universal credit is not being rolled out—it is already in—more than 1,000 children are being denied free school meals on the basis of the new proposal?
Yes. We can all cite the numbers from our constituencies. Even Conservative Members need to think about what they are doing to some of the poorest children in their constituencies. In the example I just quoted, the family’s annual wages would need to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they would lose by rising above the eligibility cliff edge. That problem did not occur under the old tax credit system, because that provided an offsetting income boost at the point at which free school meals were withdrawn. However, there is no equivalent mitigation under universal credit.
The Children’s Society has been much maligned today and has been cited as giving duff statistics—Conservative Members should be ashamed of themselves. It estimates that the cliff edge will mean that a million children in poverty will miss out on free school meals once universal credit is fully rolled out. They will miss out on something that is crucial for their physical and mental development.
The Government have said that 50,000 more children will benefit by the end of the roll-out in 2022, when the transitional protections are at capacity, but I and many others struggle to understand how that can be the case. Parliamentary questions tabled by my hon. Friends and others have gone unanswered, and the Government cannot just pluck figures out of the air, as they claim so many others have done. At least we can back up our claims with evidence from the Children’s Society, Gingerbread, the Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice, all of which agree that this statutory instrument would take free school meals away from a million future children—[Interruption.] It would. If the SI does not come into force, a million more children will receive free school meals—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can shake their heads all they like.
During my recent Westminster Hall debate, I offered Ministers a solution that would mean that all children in universal credit households would continue to receive free school meals. As somebody asked earlier, I can say that it would cost half a billion pounds—not a huge cost to feed over a million of the poorest children. My proposal would see around 1.1 million more children in years 3 and above from low-income families receiving free school meals compared with under this change.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con):
If we were to maintain free school meals for absolutely everybody on universal credit, does the hon. Lady think it would be right to prioritise those coming from the legacy tax credit system, who could be earning up to £50,000 a year, instead of opening up eligibility and getting free school meals to more children in poverty?
I am running out of time, so— [Interruption.] Perhaps Conservative Members would let me finish before they use up all my time. I was going to say that while I cannot go into the full details, because of the time, I understand from the Children’s Society that that is a small number of people—up to 40,000—and that those people are often in large families with severely disabled children. The large amount of money is down to how much they receive for those children. It is disingenuous to use that as an example and to make out that all those families are receiving £50,000.
The Minister claimed yesterday that my proposal would result in around half of all pupils becoming eligible, increasing the figure to 3.3 severely million children. Even the much-cited Channel 4 FactCheck article states that our proposal would extend to 1.1 million children, making the total 1.8 million children. When we talk about facts, Conservative Members need to get their facts right. Where do the extra 1.5 million children come from?