In the North West, a quarter of a million children qualify for free school meals. Nearly six-and-a-half-thousand of these children live in my constituency.
To put this in perspective there are more children claiming Free School Meals in Manchester Gorton, than in the constituencies of the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Education combined. It is no wonder then, that the Government continually fails to comprehend the reality of life for children and families who rely on free school meals.
Schools, charities, food banks, mutual aid groups, as well as Manchester City Council have rallied to support my constituents throughout these difficult months, and I am incredibly grateful to every single person involved. Of course, I also have to thank Marcus Rashford for his tireless work through this crisis – I am sure he already knows this, but Manchester is immensely proud of him.
For families struggling to make ends meet, Free School Meals are a lifeline. And yet, once again we are having to persuade the Government to continue this support through the school holidays. Withdrawing Free School Meals over the half term would be devastating for the 6,327 children in my constituency who, without this support would otherwise go hungry.
The link between poverty and digital exclusion is clear: if you are poor, you have less chance of being online.
For children this year, this has meant missing out on vital learning. I have spoken with headteachers across my constituency who say they are desperate for digital devices for their pupils; not a one said they had received enough devices for all the children in their school who needed one.
Sadly, children growing up in poverty are once again being abandoned by this Government – they are left to go without schooling and without food.
If the Government wanted to, they could change this overnight;
- by extending the provision of Free School Meals over the upcoming half term;
- introducing a cash payment system for parents instead of the insulting food packages they are currently receiving while schools are closed;
- and rapidly upscaling the delivery of digital devices to those schools who need them.
I hope they will do so soon, but until then I will continue to be a voice for the poorest and most in need in my constituency.