High Peak MP says free meal voucher scheme for school holidays was only ever a temporary measure

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This week, there has been a lot of discussion (and quite a bit of misinformation) about free school meal vouchers.

During this debate, there has been a lot of heat and not much light, so I thought it would be helpful to set out some facts, clear up some misconceptions and set out where I stand on this issue.

Food poverty is a really serious issue and the Government has a responsibility to address it – nobody wants to see any child go hungry.

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Marcus Rashford has rightly been vocal on this issue and he has conducted himself with remarkable dignity and campaigned very effectively on an issue he cares about deeply.

Roebrt Largan, MP for High PeakRoebrt Largan, MP for High Peak
Roebrt Largan, MP for High Peak

More than that, he is an excellent role model.

He has been an active supporter of the food charity, FareShare, which during lockdown delivered 25 tonnes of food to seven charities and community groups in the High Peak, something I was able to thank them for during a summer visit to their depot.

People on all sides of the political divide recognise the serious challenge of food poverty and agree that action is needed.

We only disagree on the best way of helping people.

Despite some misinformation being put out there, it is important to stress that there are no changes to free school meals, which continue to be served to more than a million children every school day.

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Indeed, the Government have actually significantly extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes like breakfast clubs, which play a really important role in narrowing educational inequalities.

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The vote in Parliament last week was nothing to do with free school meals as it was a non-binding Opposition Day motion related to the temporary free school voucher scheme brought in during lockdown.

A few months ago, I was one of the first Conservative MPs to call for the Government to listen to campaigners like Marcus Rashford and extend the temporary voucher scheme over the summer holidays, given the unprecedented situation we faced with schools having been closed for months.

But we also need to remember that this was a temporary measure during lockdown.

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The last Labour Government rejected the idea of a permanent voucher scheme as well, as it is not the most effective way of targeting support outside of term time.

During, the pandemic the Government has increased support for the most vulnerable in a large number of different ways, including an emergency increase to universal credit by £1,000 per year, increasing the local housing allowance, creating a £180 million fund to help struggling families with their rent and awarding £16 million to food charities.

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The Government has also given local councils even more funding to help provide local targeted welfare assistance, including more than £800,000 to Derbyshire County Council to help those struggling to afford food and essential supplies.

The council responded in a number of targeted and innovative ways, including offering food boxes to parents, supporting holiday hunger clubs and giving substantial funding directly to local charities.

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I recently met with the Education Secretary to discuss the need for a long-term solution to provide more support for the most vulnerable children during school holidays and made it clear that, if we were ever forced into another full lockdown, then I believe the temporary free school meal voucher scheme would need to be reintroduced immediately.

I care deeply about tackling food poverty and will continue to fight for our area.

Since being elected, my office has taken up over 13,000 individual cases on behalf of local people, helping the most vulnerable get through this crisis.

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If you need help, please do not hesitate to contact me on [email protected] or 01663 769 779 or coming along to one of my weekly help and advice surgeries.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Robert Largan is MP for High Peak.