Thank you for contacting me about the recent Opposition day debate on free school meals.
I recognise the strength of feeling about this issue, we all want to do what we can to alleviate child food poverty.
The Government has taken significant action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.
This has included extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were partially closed, increasing universal credit by £20 a week, funding councils to provide emergency food assistance to families, and allocating £63 million to councils for families in hardship.
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. Ministers have also supported families through this difficult period with almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments.
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 were put in by coronavirus and took the unprecedented action they did.
However, we are now in a different position to the one we were in in the summer with all our schools back open.
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.
I believe that the best way to support families all year round is through Universal Credit, rather than the Government subsidising meals for families in their own homes.
A wide range of financial and other support is already available to help families, such as the £9 million summer holiday activities and food programme.
I was glad to see that the recent debate recognised the steps the Government has taken.
The language used by Labour does a great disservice to those they claim to represent. I do not want to see any child go hungry and it must be remembered that we all seek to reach the same end just by different means. I hope this explains why I voted the way I did.
Bill Wiggin MP