Richard's comment on Wednesday's vote about extending free school meals:
"We all want to do what we can to alleviate child food poverty and to date, the Government has taken significant action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic. However, Wednesday’s vote was not a vote to end free school meals. There has been much misinformation about this. The vote was a Labour Party motion to extend free school meals to school holidays.
"Earlier this year, the Government extended free school meals support to those eligible when schools were partially closed. However, schools have re-opened and with 99% of schools now open, free school meals continue to be delivered in the way that they were provided before the pandemic. It has never been the case, under any government, that free school meals were provided during school holidays until the Government decided earlier this year to fund free school meals during the school holidays totalling £380 million.
"The 1.4 million children who receive free school meals during term time will continue to receive them. The Government has targeted support for children and their parents through a wide range of other measures.
"At the outset of the pandemic, Universal Credit was increased by £1,040 per year. This was part of a £9.3 billion package of additional support for welfare payments.
"Councils have been funded to provide emergency food assistance to families and the Government allocated £63 million to councils for families in hardship and help the most vulnerable. That was specific funding to help those struggling to afford food and other essentials due to coronavirus and was in addition to a £9 million summer holiday activities and food programme. This programme also ran over the summer, offering activities and meals to thousands of disadvantaged children. Disadvantaged children in England benefitted from free healthy meals and activities throughout the summer as part of this scheme.
"Indeed, yesterday the Government announced a further £1 billion in support for local authorities. This funding is not ring-fenced and the government has asked councils to use this funding to prioritise the running of vital services and protecting the most vulnerable and public health. The funding has seen an additional total of £5.2 million allocated to Bedford Borough Council and Central Beds Council.
"As indicated above, the national free school meals voucher scheme 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 and that funding was targeted at ensuring that support was available throughout the period that schools were mainly closed. Ministers also took the unprecedented step this year of extending the free school meals programme over the summer holidays. As you will know, provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only, but I think it was right that Ministers recognised the extremely difficult situation families have been put in by coronavirus and took the unprecedented action they did. I recognise the strength of feeling about this issue. However, we are now in a different position, with our schools back open to all pupils. It is important to remember that free school meals are not a general welfare measure. They are aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability and through the measures above, the Government is targeting support at the most vulnerable.
"Ministers have also deployed the UK Treasury to support families through this difficult period with almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, through schemes designed to support jobs and incomes through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Job Support Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme as well as the £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments.
"I believe that the best way to support families all year round is through Universal Credit. It is also through maintaining free school meals during term time, targeting support in specific ways designed to have the maximum impact, supporting people’s jobs and significantly increasing provision in the welfare state that we can have the most impact in ensuring that children are supported."