Last Wednesday’s debate in Parliament was an ‘Opposition Day Debate’ – it was not legislation and votes on such debates are never binding. It is, as it says, a debate and has no impact on Government policy.
Indeed, should there have been a majority vote in favour of the motion, I do question how the provision of school meals during the holiday could have been organised with just 24- or 48-hours’ notice. One thing that I can not abide by, is our most vulnerable members of society, our children, becoming political pawns.
The Government is determined to support the most vulnerable in society, children and adults alike. Free school meals are a very blunt instrument and there are far better and effective mechanisms to ensure those who need the help, get it.
This debate was never a debate on the question of feeding vulnerable children. It instead was a debate on the best way to do it.
At the beginning of June, for the period up to the end of October, the Government allocated £63 million to local authorities to support families who really needed the extra support. This targeted approach is far more effective than a one-size fits all, advocated by opposition MPs.
As the authority with responsibility for children and young people, Conservative led Derbyshire County Council was allocated over £808,000.00 for this purpose. I know great work has been carried out with this additional funding to support the most vulnerable families in Derbyshire.
Ensuring children and families do not go hungry has always been a priority of the County Council and of this Government and great efforts continue to be made to ensure that does not happen in Derbyshire. The County Council work closely with and provide funding to Feeding Derbyshire, a countywide partnership led by Rural Action Derbyshire, which works to support and feed people who are struggling either in debt or on low incomes, an issue heightened during the pandemic.
Earlier this year the County Council received £808,000 from DEFRA to support people who were struggling to afford essentials due to the impact of coronavirus and of that £158,000 was spent on emergency food supplies and a further £40,000 directly on the school holiday food programme.
In addition to this, for this October half term, schools have been able to order food parcels from The County Council’s schools catering service for their families who are eligible for FSM. School pay for this from their budget, and a total of 11 primary schools have purchased these for families.
No secondary school parent took up this offer and parents from just eleven primary schools did. To me, this shows that providing school meals outside of the school environment is not the way to address the issue.
At the start of the pandemic, the Government took extraordinary measures to ensure families on low incomes were supported, including a £9.3 billion boost to our welfare system. As part of this, Universal Credit has been increased by £1000.00 this year.
Since the start of this pandemic I have responded to over 10,000 emails from constituents needing assistance. And have helped wherever and whenever I could during this incredibly difficult time. I do not expect thanks for this, this is my job. But what I do find deeply upsetting is the narrative that I don’t care about our vulnerable members of society, especially our children. This could not be further from the truth. I care incredibly deeply. They are the reason I do this job. Believe me, no one would put their head above the parapet to face some of the abuse MPs receive, unless they were deeply passionate about helping people and unless they cared.
Like many MPs and other organisations, I am constantly working behind the scenes for this community. Whether is it helping businesses, working with food banks and other organisations like Foundation Derbyshire, securing much needed PPE, flu vaccinations or helping people who simply have no where else to turn.
I am sure you will now appreciate that I am fully supportive of helping families across Derbyshire Dales and will continue to back the Government’s agenda to provide targeted and effective support for those most in need.