Ian Sollom, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, has written to our Conservative MP, after he voted against extending free school meals to school holidays at this time of ongoing national crisis.
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I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the government’s response to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend Free School Meals (FSM) during the school holidays, and your own vote against such a proposal in parliament last week. I am sure we can agree that no child should ever go hungry in the UK, so in this period of ongoing national crisis, it seems extremely callous of you and the government to oppose extending measures that would help tackle this.
The government agreed to fund an extension to the FSM scheme over the summer holidays this year. Yet as we continue in much the same, if not a worse national situation with the pandemic compared with the summer, it is simply not credible for you and your colleagues to argue that what was deemed necessary over the summer is not necessary now.
I have seen you make the case on the BBC that Universal Credit rose by £20 per week in the Chancellor’s initial response to the pandemic (on 20th March), and that this should be used to cover the cost of feeding children in the school holidays. But this is no justification: the increase came in well before the summer holidays and applies to the standard allowance of Universal Credit, entirely unrelated to having children.
So, I must ask, why has the government changed its view on this now? Why do you believe child food hunger is less of a problem now than just a few weeks ago in the summer holidays?
The truth is that it is not less of a problem. That so many individuals, businesses and local authorities can see that and have offered to step in to provide what the government will not is both heart-warming and inspiring. But it is also wrong and should leave you feeling deeply ashamed. Vulnerable children across the country now face a lottery of local provision in their holidays, their nutrition determined by their proximity to those able and willing to help.
There is no doubt that the problem of child food hunger requires a much more comprehensive and long-term plan. The numbers of pupils on FSM has been rising alarmingly in recent years and will undoubtedly rise further as we face the economic consequences of the pandemic. Your Conservative colleague, Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, argues eloquently of the need for such a long-term strategy, and not only on compassionate grounds but on sound economics: increasing educational attainment, boosting life chances and saving money in the long run.
But Robert Halfon, like me and many of your constituents, also recognises that the extension of FSM into the school holidays is necessary in an economy reeling from the pandemic. Indeed, he described it as a “no-brainer”. If you truly believe that no child should be going hungry in the UK, then you must surely agree.
I urge you to reconsider your position on this issue and join with Robert Halfon, Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs in pressing the government to change its policy.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire
Councillor for Harston & Comberton Ward, South Cambridgeshire District Council