EMMA LEWELL-BUCK MP: It's clear 'Levelling Up', like the 'Northern Powerhouse' before, are vacuous empty phrases
Some of us in Parliament, however, are doing our best to represent our constituents and focus on the issues that really matter.
That is why this week, after the terrible news that the Northeast now has the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, I led a debate on increasing the eligibility criteria for free school meals with a view to eventually making hot meals at school universal for all children.
Hungry children never have been and never will be a priority for this Government. If the political will was there, then surely they would listen to charities, faith-groups, cross-party MPs, and even advisors like Henry Dimbleby, whom they appointed to lead the National Food Strategy. All of the above are pleading with them to at least expand eligibility to all families receiving Universal Credit or equivalent benefits.
If the eligibility threshold was increased, then a further 1.3 million children would be able to receive a free school meal. At present, an estimated 800,000 of the four million children in poverty aren’t eligible. The Child Poverty Action Group has estimated this would cost £550 million per year.
In terms of Government spending this is small, especially when you see how wiling they were to give billions to friends and donors for dodgy Covid contracts.
Furthermore, the Government could, alongside that reform, introduce an automatic registration scheme for free school meals. At present over 200,000 miss out because of the overly bureaucratic nature of registration.
These hungry children are the children of key workers, working for their poverty, key workers who kept us going and cared for our loved ones throughout the pandemic, who risked their lives for us.
Of course, the Minister refused to implement these changes.It’s clear that “Levelling Up”, just like the “Northern Powerhouse” before, are vacuous empty phrases that never intended to do anything to improve the life chances of children in our area.