Yorkshire MP explains why she voted against free meals for disadvantaged pupils in the school holidays

Miriam CatesMiriam Cates
Miriam Cates
A South Yorkshire MP who voted against providing free school meals in the holidays says poverty won’t be solved by handing out supermarket vouchers.

Labour put forward a motion in the House of Commons on Wednesday night (October 21) calling for 1.4m disadvantaged children in England to be given £15-a-week food vouchers during holidays until Easter 2021.

The motion was voted down by Conservative MPs, including Miriam Cates. Her Penistone and Stocksbridge constituency is ranked 340 most deprived out of 533 constituencies in England.

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Ms Cates said no one was denying poverty existed and the Government was supporting families through Universal Credit.

She said: “This was supposedly a debate about free school meals, but even if the motion had passed, the result would not be more free school meals.

“During holidays, schools are closed and don’t provide physical meals – free or not – to any child. What was really being called for was not free school meals, but rather the continuation of a scheme that would give a £15 supermarket voucher to the parent of each child who is eligible.

“That is not the same as providing a daily nutritious meal to a child in the school environment, to help them get the most out of their education. I think it’s important to recognise the difference between free school meals and a supermarket voucher.”

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Ms Cates said the initial voucher scheme was set up in March as a “practical response” to schools needing to close during lockdown.

She added: “Whilst some schools continued to deliver physical meals to children studying at home, for many this wasn’t possible, and the voucher scheme addressed this. But no one suggested at the time that this was anything other than a temporary solution.

“Nobody would seek to deny that child poverty exists, or that we must be doing whatever we can to bring people out of it. But that is not achieved by occasionally distributing supermarket vouchers.

“We need to take a wider view of what causes families to be in poverty and how to help them out of it. In the immediate term, the Government is supporting families through increases in Universal Credit and providing funding to local authorities to provide food for families.”


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