LISA NANDY MP - Hungry children deserve much better

Only two weeks into the New Year and it is depressingly familiar to find the Government once again denying help to children who face hunger during the upcoming school holidays.
Lisa Nandy MPLisa Nandy MP
Lisa Nandy MP

More than 10,000 children in the Wigan borough, and nearly one in five in the country, qualify for Free School Meals. During the first lockdown the Food Foundation found that more than 200,000 of them had to miss meals because their families had too little food.

Last summer - and again at Christmas - the Government decided to deny children the help they needed during the school holidays, only to change their mind after a campaign by the footballer Marcus Rashford.

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During the October half-term Wigan Council, charities like Fur Clempt and the Brick and our amazing local businesses stepped in to prevent children going hungry during the break.

Now once again it seems the Government will not be providing Free School Meals during the fast-approaching February half-term leaving over 3,000 children in Wigan facing hunger once more.

It is bad enough that the Government decided to deny children the food they needed to eat, but recently it emerged that some of the private companies the Government was paying to provide food parcels to children were shockingly short-changing hungry children. Parents in despair posted images of half a tomato, a few slices of ham and half a loaf of bread, that were supposed to last for a week.

The Prime Minister admitted this was an “insult to the families that had received them” and laid the blame at the feet of suppliers, only for it to emerge that his own guidance on the content of food parcels was almost identical to the poor-quality food parcels that were handed out.

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Contrast that with the way in which public money has been spent in other areas. During this pandemic the National Audit Office revealed that the Government has handed out billions in private sector contracts, creating a fast-track for firms connected to Conservative Ministers, with many going to firms who did not deliver. Some of those companies have posted large profits as a result.

Our hungry children deserve so much better. That is why this week Labour joined forces with a handful of Tory MPs to oppose the planned £20 cut to Universal Credit. Four in 10 families on universal credit work in jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet. In the middle of a global pandemic, with many workers furloughed and many more unemployed, cutting Universal Credit for families is particularly heartless.

We believe the government should make sure all eligible children can receive the full value of Free School Meals during this school year, including during all holidays, starting with the February half term.

To enable this, the Government should set up cash payments so parents can choose to spend the £15 Free School Meal funding on the food and supplies that are right for their children.

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Parents who are working hard to put food on the table during this pandemic would do a far better job at feeding their children than a government and private companies who have allowed children to go hungry with such poor-quality food parcels. In the middle of a pandemic forcing families to travel far and wide to use food vouchers or collect food parcels seems pointless and irresponsible when there is a clear alternative.

But while Labour MPs voted to support hungry children in Parliament yesterday the Government and local Conservative MPs did not even bother to vote.

Some of these children have parents who go out day after day to keep the country going during this pandemic. Ministers clapped for them and then allowed their children to go hungry. No child deserves to go hungry – every single one should expect better from their Government. If the Government will not provide for them, we will step up again locally to ensure they get the help they need, and we will never stop fighting for them.

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