Thank you for your email regarding Free School Meals.
For the avoidance of any doubt I support the provision of Free School Meals 100 per cent. Indeed through the universal infant Free School Meals entitlement we have extended the number of children who benefit. In addition to delivering Free School Meals to those pupils most in need, the Government also provide free school milk to those eligible, and the school fruit and vegetable scheme has also restarted now schools have returned.
I also welcome the increase in Breakfast Clubs and I am very grateful for the work of many schools to make these possible.
Since the introduction of the welfare state no previous Government, whatever their party politics and whatever the state of the economy, has ever extended Free School Meals to all those eligible outside of school.
I am very glad that this summer we did just that.
This was in addition to supporting children through our Holiday Activities and Food programme. This summer the £9 million programme supported around 50,000 children across 17 local authority areas with free healthy meals and activities. This was an excellent project helping children directly and extending not only support but opportunity.
It is right that the Government acted to increase support to children and their families during this pandemic and especially during the prolonged period when many children (despite the brilliant efforts of teachers to support the most vulnerable) were unable to attend school.
The national free school meals voucher scheme which the Government introduced saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families with over 20,000 schools placing orders.
This was just one part of a package of support during Covid.
£53bn has been committed to protecting incomes, helping to increase the security of some 12 million jobs.
£9.3bn is committed to enhancing welfare, including an increase in Universal Credit specifically to help during this period of Covid crisis which on an annualised basis is worth £1,040.
The additional support for Free School Meals was provided when most students were not in school. With the return of schools in September the vast majority of students are now back in the classroom and Free School Meals are continuing as normal during the school week but also as normal are not being provided at weekends nor over this week’s half term.
£63m was allocated earlier this year to local authorities to help support those suffering hardship. Hardship appears in many forms and the purpose of this funding is that where the local authority perceives specific needs it can ensure there is targeted funding. West Sussex County Council has utilised funding to support those in need via its Community Hub which was established in April to operate 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm. It has received 54,000 calls and on-line support forms. Over half the emergency funding made available to the County Council has been spent on direct support for food and other essentials for those in need with grants also being provided to food banks, Citizens Advice and other community charities.
I totally support Free School Meals. I also totally support the state using taxpayer funds to provide assistance to families and others in need and I welcome the extra resources that are being devoted during the current pandemic to do just that. This is in addition to the investment being made to help drive economic recovery and protect jobs.
No one disagrees with the absolute imperative of helping ensure children do not go hungry. The only debate is on the means - and none are perfect. The Opposition Day debate had no power to change Government spending and focussed on one aspect of a huge support package that should not be viewed in isolation.
I fully support the huge efforts being made to help minimise the number of people likely to fall into hardship during this pandemic and to support those who have. I believe the Government’s approach, combining help for families with targeted support for those who need it is the right one- I therefore did not support the Labour motion.