Skip to main content

Cost of Living: Additional Support for School Pupils and HE Students

Volume 721: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

8. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the potential merits of providing additional support for school pupils and higher education students in the context of increases in the cost of living. (901775)

In September 2022, the Secretary of State for Education held introductory meetings with his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That produced wide-ranging discussions, including on cost of living issues. Education is devolved, so additional support in this regard would be the responsibility of the devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Government’s lead adviser on food issues, Henry Dimbleby, has condemned the Minister’s response to the national food strategy, warning that it could mean more children go hungry. Just yesterday, the headteacher of a multi-academy trust reported that children are breaking down and crying because of hunger. In Scotland, all children in primary 1 to 5 receive free school meals and from 14 November all eligible children up to the age of 16 will be receiving the Scottish child payment of £25 per week. As this cost of living crisis deepens, when will this Government match the actions of the Scottish Government to support children in most need?

We have provided £1.9 million of funding in free school meals and more than £2 billion in pupil premium. We are there to support disadvantaged students, which is why we are reforming education to give them a good start in life. Perhaps the hon. Lady and her counterparts in the devolved nations could learn from what we are doing here in England.

But of course £1.9 million is not even going to touch the scale of the problem that we have here. Recent research from PwC found that for every pound invested in free school meals there was a return of £1.71 in savings to the state. Given that many families have moved beyond “just about managing” into “just about surviving”, when will this Government match the Scottish Government’s commitment to universal free school meals for primary children and the transformational Scottish child payment?

As the former Education Secretary rightly says, it was our idea.

Let us look at the funding that we are giving Scotland. The devolved Administrations are well funded to deliver their devolved responsibilities. They have had block grant funding of an average of £41 billion a year. The Government have also extended free school meals to more children than any other Government over the past half a century. We remain committed to supporting the most disadvantaged children.