Westminster Diary: Hungry children at half-term

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper offers her take on a week in Westminster...

I am extremely proud to represent the wonderful people of St Albans but on Wednesday I felt ashamed of Parliament: ashamed, as the government voted down calls to extend free school meals provision over school holidays. It is of course a hugely emotive issue but I was disappointed that some MPs simply sought to score points rather than focus on the issue in hand: hungry children.

I voted to extend free school meals in school holidays until Easter and was disappointed to be the only Hertfordshire MP to do so. There are 1,367 children who already qualify in St Albans and hundreds more struggling families on Universal Credit – who don’t qualify - worrying about how they will feed their kids this half-term.

I used my first ever question at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask the government to do the right thing and I spoke in the debate too. he previous week, I wrote to the Chancellor and Education Secretary pleading for government support so that no child would be hungry this half-term.

Government ministers are quick to outline the many funding packages they’ve provided for various sectors, and I welcome this, but with billions already spent, I simply can’t understand why the government draws the red line at hungry children.

Some of the reasons given by Conservative MPs were bizarre. One said that children have been going hungry for years, another said the he didn’t believe in “nationalising children”. All this was being debated from the plush, publicly funded green benches of Parliament, where the corridors are often filled with the smell of the canteen’s own ‘school dinners’.

Others made more reasonable points asking opposition MPs like me to work with them on a long-term strategy. I said that I’d be happy to, but that a long-term strategy would do nothing to reassure the millions of children and their families lying awake at night, anxious, wondering where they are going to find the £30-£40 at least to provide food for their children this half-term.

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With communities and businesses stepping up for half-term, it’s not too late for the government to do the right thing and make sure no kid goes hungry this Christmas.