I am writing to you to express my dismay at your support of the government’s decision not to back the Labour amendment in the Free School Meals debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening. As you will be aware the Labour amendment had passed it would have ensured the continuation of the voucher scheme for those currently in receipt of free school meals, during holiday periods up to and including the Easter Holidays in 2021.
For the Central Bedfordshire area (statistics from 2019 are only available by local authority area, I’m aware of the overlap with other constituencies) this would have benefited 3,642 pupils and for the Bedford Borough area this would have benefited 3,798 pupils.
Whatever the semantics around whether food and drink is subsidised across the Parliamentary estate, it is a fact that the same MPs who enjoy cheap food at the taxpayers expense were content to vote to deny support to some of the most vulnerable children in our society. As you will be aware this has caused a great deal of anger across the country, from people of all political leanings.
Assuming 1.4 million claim free school meals, I’m aware this number is likely to have increased during the pandemic, the cost of this over the five weeks of school holidays up to and including Easter 2021 would be approximately £105 million. This is a pittance compared to the amount wasted by the government through questionable procurement deals for Protective Personal Equipment and the billions spent on the SERCO track and trace system which continues its woeful performance.
I’m aware that in your standard reply you state that you believe the best way to support families all the year round is through Universal Credit. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have warned that removing the current £20 per week uplift risks plunging 700,000 people into poverty, including 300,000 children. A link to their report here: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/autumn-budget-why-we-must-keep-20-social-security-lifeline
Will you support the £20 per week uplift for Universal Credit to continue in the 2021/22 financial year?
While it is the case that during the ongoing pandemic the Government has provided £18m of support to Central Bedfordshire and £13m of support to Bedford Borough, some of which we found out today will be used to provide a level of support for free school meal children, these figures are dwarfed by Government funding cuts to these councils over the last 10 years.
Where savings need to be made, surely they should be borne by those with the broadest shoulders and not those of our most vulnerable children?
I note that many of your colleagues in Parliament believe that the government has made the wrong decision. I respectfully urge you to reconsider your stance on this issue and join with your colleagues who believe that the decision to stop the government support for eligible children during holiday periods should be reversed.
Richard Fuller was elected as the Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire in the 2019 General Election.