Wed, 17 Jun 2020
NEWBURY MP Laura Farris said she was 'prepared to rebel' against the Government had it not performed a U-turn over its decision not to provide free school meals vouchers during the summer.
The Government previously said it would not be offering the vouchers to some of the country’s most disadvantaged families throughout the six week holidays.
However, it changed its mind on Tuesday and announced it would be reversing the decision following a campaign by Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford.
As a result, the families of about 1.3 million children in England will now be entitled to a voucher worth £15 per week per child through the summer.
Mrs Farris told Newburytoday that she “warmly welcomed” the decision.
She said: “I wholeheartedly support the provision of free school meals to children during the summer holidays at this exceptional time.
“I am so glad the Government listened to MPs from across the House on this. I was prepared to rebel on it.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mrs Farris said she felt providing free school meal vouchers was “the right thing to do” for three reasons.
First, she said, was the "simplicity of implementation".
While she welcomed the Government’s promise to make £63m available to local authorities to help provide food for families in need, she said she thought it "introduced a layer of bureaucracy and administration" and was concerned there was a risk that some of the funding would be delayed or be uneven between different authorities.
She said: “The fact of the matter is 1.3 million children are eligible to receive free school meals. They have been identified, their eligibility has been confirmed. They are already receiving the meal or a voucher if they aren’t in school at the moment.
“It seems to me if we have the capability and will to help children throughout this period then it is incumbent on us to find the most direct and accessible means of doing so."
Mrs Farris said that after 12 weeks in lockdown it was “absolutely right for the Government to fix our focus very firmly on children".
She added: "The Government's starting point, which was absolutely right, was the extremely clinically vulnerable and their protection.
"Then we turned our focus on workers and unprecedented package of support for with nine million people benefitting through the furlough scheme.
“Yet the category we know the very least about is children and especially disadvantaged children."
Speaking to Newburytoday, she said: “A lot of children who receive free school meals have parents that work in frontline jobs. People who have been doing low paid and, in the context of Covid-19, dangerous work.
“I think we need to be valuing those people who, historically, we probably haven’t valued enough.
“I think in many ways children have been the hidden victims in all of this."
She added: “Summer holidays are challenging at the best of times, particularly for families on low income.
“So in my view it’s right that we provide support to families like that at this exceptional time."