What’s happening in Parliament on FSM?
Despite setbacks, pressure grows on the Government to extend eligibility for Free School Meals.
With the Covid-19 Crisis deepening in many places across the UK, and with the autumn half-term holidays fast approaching, school food campaigners have stepped up their advocacy efforts in an attempt to ensure children from vulnerable households continue to receive healthy and nutritious meals. We’ve put together a brief primer on what has been happening, and what are the next steps.
Parliamentary Petition - End Child Food Poverty
Anyone can start a public petition on the parliament website, as long as they are a British Citizen or UK Resident. Petitions that achieve 10,000 signatures or more will receive an official response from the Government, while any that reach 100,000 signatures are considered for a debate.
On 15 October, celebrity footballer Marcus Rashford CBE launched a petition as part of his campaign to #EndChildFoodPoverty. The petition calls on the Government to implement the first three recommendations of Part One of the National Food Strategy, specifically to:
- Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit
- Provide meals & activities during all holidays
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.
The petition has already surpassed 300,000 signatures (over 100,000 signature in the first eight hours!) however, while the Government has not yet made an official response to the petition, a No 10 spokesperson has rejected the call to extend FSM over the school holidays.
Opposition Day Debate - Free School Meals
In each parliamentary session, 20 days are allocated where the main subject of business is chosen by the opposition parties. Seven days are allocated to the Leader of the official opposition, and three days to the Leader of the second largest opposition party.
After the Government publicly rejected the call from Marcus Rashford to extend eligibility for FSM, the Labour Opposition indicated it would use one of its allocated days to bring about a debate on the issue. The Opposition moved the following motion in the name of Leader Kier Starmer, with Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green leading the debate:
That this House calls on the Government to continue directly funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 to prevent over a million children going hungry during this crisis.
In response, the Government introduced an amendment to this motion, which acknowledged the importance of FSM, but did not make any commitment to provide funding during school holidays.
The debate was held in Parliament on Wednesday 21 October, with the motion effectively defeated 261 - 322. We congratulate the five Conservative MPs who voted to support the motion: Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Anne Marie Marris (Newton Abbot), and Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe).
Early Day Motion - Tackling Child Food Insecurity
Early day motions (EDMs) are motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. EDMs are not allocated a specific time for debate, but they allow individual MPs to put their views on record, to draw attention to specific events or campaigns, and by attracting the signatures of other MPs, EDMs can be used to demonstrate the level of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view.
On October 6, Conservative MP and Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government:
“to implement the recommendations in the National Food Strategy Part 1 to increase the value of and expand eligibility for Healthy Start vouchers, expand eligibility for Free School Meals, and extend the Holiday Activities and Food programme”
This EDM has already attracted support from Conservative, Labour, DUP, Alliance, Liberal Democrat, SNP & Independent MPs.
Despite the Goverment rejecting calls to extend the reach of FSM, the fight goes on! Our friends at Chefs in Schools have put together a short film showing the reality of child food poverty for many families, and their campaign website has links to Marcus Rashford’s petition, Sustain’s e-action, and other details on the campaign.
If you feel particularly proactive, please also get in contact with your MP and ask them to sign the EDM!
In other news ...
Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (GSTC) has released a report examining opportunities in the school food system to prioritise nutritious food for young people.
A new report from Sustain's London Food Link team has found London councils with strong food foundations are better equipped for a quick response to the ever-changing pandemic.
With 30 campaign partners we've sent another letter to the Department for Education urging them to step up and not leave charities, restaurants and concerned citizens to fill the hunger gap this Christmas.