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Free School Holiday Activities and Meals

Volume 672: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

6. What steps he is taking to increase the provision of free school holiday (a) activities and (b) meals for children living in poverty. (901011)

This lunchtime, 1.3 million children sat down for a healthy, nutritious free school meal. Last summer, about 50,000 children took part in our holiday activities and food programme. Furthermore, our manifesto commits £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from 2021, and we have already started working on the details.

The funding for the Government’s holiday activities and food programme is a drop in the ocean, given that in Nottingham alone nearly 11,000 children used food banks for emergency supplies in the past year. Does the Minister acknowledge the sheer scale of child poverty and hunger, which has boomed on this Government’s watch? Will she outline how this Government scheme is at least targeting the areas of the country that are most in need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. All the evidence shows that work offers families the best opportunity to move out of poverty and towards self-reliance, which is why it is such good news that there are 730,000 fewer children in workless households now than a decade ago—that is a record low. Our programme of holiday food and activities is already helping about 50,000 children, and the successful bidders for next summer will be announced shortly.

May I welcome the new Ministers to their places?

It is a damning indictment of this Government that the United Nations found children in our country regularly turning up to school with empty stomachs, with more than 2 million suffering from food poverty. Hungry children struggle to learn, so it is shocking to see reports that the Chancellor is considering scrapping free school meals in the upcoming Budget. I know that the Secretary of State stated earlier that he would make representations to the Chancellor, but will he state categorically today that he would resign rather than implement such cuts? While he is at it, should he not also adopt our proposals for free school breakfasts, which I know he once supported?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of a healthy breakfast, because we know that a healthy breakfast helps children to concentrate, learn and reach their potential in life. That is why we are already investing up to £35 million in our breakfast clubs programme; 1,800 schools in more disadvantaged areas have already signed up. The programme can be extended to nearly 2,500 schools, and Family Action has estimated that about 280,000 children are already receiving a free breakfast through the programme every day.

For more than a decade, I have worked with the charity Magic Breakfast to open school breakfast clubs across the country in order to improve the life chances of our young people. What support can my hon. Friend give to expand that breakfast club programme so that it reaches even more young people?

Many schools have already opened successful breakfast clubs, and we are investing up to £35 million to improve that provision in disadvantaged areas. Schools are free to use their budgets to fund breakfast clubs. May I also remind my hon. Friend of our manifesto commitment of £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from next year?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure of the Government’s commitment is in their record? We have already extended eligibility for free school meals on no fewer than three occasions. Hundreds more schools are set to benefit from the national breakfast programme and thousands more children are set to benefit from holiday activities this coming summer.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our programme is already operating in a number of areas and he is right that it has been extended. We can use the programme to help to find out how we can best support children and families during the holidays. A full evaluation of the 2019 programme will be published shortly.