I have received a number of emails regarding the vote yesterday and have set out my views below.
To clarify at the outset, yesterday’s vote was on a statement written by the Labour party, not a piece of legislation, and it would have had no force even if all 650 MPs had voted for it.
The substantive issue is whether the Government should provide meals for children in holidays. Before I entered Parliament I spent 16 years helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those on Free School Meals made up a large proportion of those I supported. I am acutely aware of the struggle that some families are facing – this is exactly why the Government increased the money going into Universal Credit by £9.3 billion (£1040 per household). However in the 100 years that governments of all colours have provided school meals, they have never, until this year, been provided when schools were closed. As the name suggests, they were designed to be provided during term-time.
I recognise that some people feel this should change. My own view is that we should revert to the system as it was designed, but that we should look at how we can do more to alleviate poverty, including tackling the drivers of poverty. The Government has provided one of the most generous packages of support for people affected by Coronavirus in the world, including the significant increases to Universal Credit, increasing local housing allowance rates, and spending billions on the furlough and self-employed schemes. The Chancellor has announced further support today to help protect jobs and therefore people’s incomes. I know, however, that while this support has prevented many families from falling into poverty, too many are still facing hardship. There is therefore an important conversation to be had about material poverty and how we tackle it, and I have already had conversations with colleagues about this.