A number of constituents have written to ask me why I voted against extending free school meals over half-term.
First, no meals are being taken from those who had them: free school meals are as described; meals provided to children who qualify, whilst they are at school.
It has never been any government’s policy -irrespective of the political party in power- to take from parents the responsibility for feeding their children, and handing that responsibility instead, to the state.
Exceptionally, provision was maintained over the summer because schools had been closed, placing an additional burden on straightened parents that they would not normally have had to bear. In total, eligible families collectively received £380 million in meal vouchers while schools were partially closed, but I do not believe that this is an effective way of dealing with the problem.
The proper way to address poverty is not to provide free lunches to poor children, but to empower their parents, by tackling their poverty at source, by increasing their income.
Accordingly, Universal Credit has, in response to Coronavirus, been increased by £1,040 this year.
In addition, between 2015-16 and 2019-20 1.7 people million were taken out of paying income tax altogether as a consequence of raising the personal tax-free allowance to £12,500 for all 32 million income tax payers.
Furthermore, the adult national minimum wage was raised to £8.72 per hour.
In total £53 billion has been spent on income protection schemes and £9.3 billion on additional welfare payments.
These are the proper ways to treat those on low incomes with dignity. It allows them to budget according to their family circumstance rather than being issued with vouchers for lunches, almost as a badge of poverty, much in the way that claimants are demeaned in the USA by being issued with food stamps.
Poor people still have their dignity, and it should not be compromised.
Employment is by far the best route to escape poverty, which is why it is so important that we stop generating further unemployment through our response to Covid-19.
I do not belittle the suffering of families who have lost loved ones, nor the suffering of those who recover only to be blighted with a post-viral syndrome, but that suffering is no excuse for tipping our economy into recession.
The proven effect of lock-downs is that they make poor people poorer.