The result of the vote last night over whether or not children should be provided with free school meals over the half term and Christmas break has quite frankly left a sickening taste in my mouth.
Not only is it a disgrace that Conservative MPs voted for children to go hungry over Christmas, but some of the arguments put forward for doing so would send shivers down anyone’s spine. One MP made the bizarre claim that he did ‘not believe in nationalising children’ as a reason for allowing millions of them to go without food over winter, and another government minister shamelessly pointed out that ‘kids have gone hungry for years’ as an apparent justification for his vote.
The idea that it is the parent’s jobs to feed their children and not that of the government is a cruel and misleading argument. We are in the midst of a pandemic leading to a crisis of unemployment. Thousands of parents around the country who have lost their jobs and will be desperately worried about how they and their families will cope over winter were told last night that it is their own responsibility. You can only imagine how they must be feeling this morning.
Even if someone fails to accept this argument, no one can deny that it is never the children’s fault. No child decides the circumstances they have been born in to, and for the government to abandon them when other lines of support have failed them is a deeply saddening situation. Others suggest that there is simply no money left to give for the free meals. But how can it be that the government found £500m to subsidise the eat out to help out scheme, yet cannot pay the estimated £20m it would cost to provide free school meals for a week?
As of 2019 in the North East around 21% of primary school children and around 19% of secondary school children receive free school meals, even before the pandemic hit, the highest rate of anywhere in the country. Despite this, the 3 Conservative MPs in Northumberland, Ian Levy, Guy Opperman, and Anne Marie Trevelyan voted against providing these children with meals over Christmas and half term. This is not the levelling up that was promised by the government.
In the midst of this tragic vote, Cambois Primary School has proven a shining light, offering to provide food vouchers to all of their students who are entitled to free school meals over half term. If the government will not help our starving children then we cannot give up, and must work together to do what we can to help them ourselves.