I was really disappointed that I was not called to make my speech on the School Holiday (Meals and Activities) Bill on Friday 19th January. Here is what I was planning to say:
Thank you Mr Speaker, and I would like to thank the Rt Honourable member for Birkenhead for bringing forward this important Bill, which I whole heartedly support.
What kind of society do we want? That is what we need to ask ourselves.
Do we want to live in a country where children end up foraging around their home in the summer holidays for something to eat?
Do we want to live in a country where a child clings to a teacher’s hand as the school holidays approach, not wanting to leave the school, because they know they’ll be hungry for the next 6 weeks?
Do we want to live in a country where a child comes back to school after the holidays with a lunchbox filled only with a slice of stale bread?
I have witnessed these things Mr Speaker, and I can tell you that is certainly not the kind of country that I want to live in!
5 years ago, this was an issue in the deprived areas where I worked as a head teacher.
5 years later, and not only is the issue still unresolved, but it has been exacerbated by cuts to support networks and with the roll-out of Universal Credit.
No parent should have to worry about how they are going to feed their children through the summer months.
No parent should have to miss a meal to make sure that their children get one. No parent should have to face this, but sadly parents across the country are still struggling
Three million children face school holiday hunger each summer.
Whilst many voluntary groups work exceptionally hard to provide food and support to families across the UK it is clear that those children and families have been failed.
Only in the summer of 2017, the chief executive, of the Trussell Trust, David McAuley said “Rising demand in the summer holidays as families struggle to get by without free school meals” is at the root of the problem”.
Last year the Trussell Trust handed out an additional four thousand, four hundred and twelve more emergency three-day parcels than in the previous July and August.
Put yourselves in the mind of one of those parents for a moment, maybe you are working nights and your partner is working days to keep a roof over you heads.
You know when the children go to school each day in term time that they receive a hot meal, that is balanced and has the right nutrients to help them grow and develop.
Having that meal means when they get home, you know that a ham sandwich or something light will see them through to the next day. It’s the best you can do. It’s all you can manage.
But now you face the school holidays.
When children don’t have that hot school meal provided in the day, so you need to find them something warm to eat.
You need to find the additional money to put in the meter to turn the cooker on.
You need to just get through that 6 weeks, till they go back to school
Put yourself in that parent’s shoes and I challenge anyone to tell me that they cannot see the issue here.
Mr Speaker, we need urgent action on this issue. We cannot let children down again, so now is the time to act.
We need to look at how families with children who receive free school meals can be better supported in the summer months.
We need to ask councils to keep school kitchens open over the summer so children get a balanced hot meal each day of the holiday.
We need a Government who will show some compassion and an Education Secretary who will listen to people like my Rt Honourable friend who has brought this Bill forward, education professionals and local authority workers, they have ideas to tackle this, but need the Government to have the drive and willingness to put some money behind it, to do something about it, to do the right thing.