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Child Nutrition

Volume 628: debated on Monday 11 September 2017

9. What assessment she has made of the effect on children's nutrition of the absence of free primary school meals in the school holidays. (900747)

The Government actively support the provision of nutritious food in schools. Free school meals are provided for the most disadvantaged pupils, and for every pupil in reception years 1 and 2. We have also committed £26 million to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools. More broadly, we believe that helping households to raise their incomes by allowing them to be in work is the best way to lift families out of poverty and help children to lead healthy lives.

May I commend to the Secretary of State the private Member’s Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), which will tackle the problem properly by ensuring that children who receive free school meals in term time also receive nutritious meals outside term time? If she feels that she cannot offer Government support for the Bill, may I also commend to her a charity in my constituency, Make Lunch, which is now providing meals in 50 locations —entrepreneurially, off its own bat—to tackle the problem, and will she arrange a short meeting with a Minister to discuss it?

As the hon. Gentleman sets out, there is a lot of good work happening in this area, and from my perspective, aside from what happens in schools during term-time, there are two key elements: having a strong economy that is providing people with jobs and employment, and, secondly, making sure people get to keep as much of their pay packet as possible, which is why we have not only introduced the national living wage but have increased the personal allowance. If we take those two things together, we see that somebody working 35 hours on the national minimum wage, now the national living wage, will have gained by £3,300 more through those two policies.

Will the Secretary of State take her lead from the Prime Minister, and welcome the Bill to abolish school hunger for millions of children, and might she follow the Prime Minister’s lead in bringing together the relevant Ministers, and then give us the parliamentary time so that Back Benchers on both sides of the House can finish the job for her?

The point I am trying to make is that the best way to tackle these issues is through families themselves being empowered and able to take the decisions and steps they want. What I am saying is we are doing that as a Government through having a strong economy, but also by making sure people can keep more of what they earn in the first place.