View from the house: Making sure children get fed should be basic common sense

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq. Picture: Lauren Hurley/PA

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq. Picture: Lauren Hurley/PA - Credit: PA

Some decisions in politics are complicated, others are more straightforward. Making sure that children can get food support over what is set to be one of the toughest winters in a generation ought to be straightforward.

It shouldn’t take a campaign by Marcus Rashford to point out this very basic bit of common sense. Yet, last week, all bar a handful of Tory MPs voted against Labour’s proposal to extend free school meals over the holidays during this pandemic.

The result is that during this half-term week around 1.4 million children who are at risk of going hungry won’t get any food support for the first time since this crisis began. The Tories seem happy to spend £7,000 a day for one consultant working on Serco’s failing test and trace system, but not for the 2,300 meals for hungry children that £7,000 would pay for this half-term.

As I said in my speech for Labour’s debate on free school meals last week, we are in a worse position than when free school meals were extended over summer. The virus is once again out of control and we face a bleak winter of restrictions. 1.5 million people are already unemployed, and the Bank of England last week predicted the unemployment rate will rise above its previous forecast of 7.5% this year. Food bank usage is expected to be 61% higher this winter than last.

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Making sure that hungry children can get fed in this crisis should not be a party-political issue. As shadow minister for children and early years, I wrote to all Tory backbenchers urging them to search their conscience, put principles before party and back the extension of free school meals. Unfortunately, we lost the vote, but I believe that thanks mainly to Marcus Rashford we have won the argument.

Before this pandemic hit there were already over 4 million children in the UK living in poverty. I’m not naive – I know that providing free school meals over the holidays won’t fix child poverty overnight, but it will help many families through an extremely difficult period in their lives. The fight continues.

Tulip Siddiq (Lab) is MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.