Carolyn Harris – 2020 Speech on Free School Meals

Below is the text of the speech made by Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, in the House of Commons on 16 June 2020.

Holiday hunger is not a new phenomenon, and since the summer of 2017 in Swansea East, I, my team, the Swansea Ospreys, football and rugby clubs, local businesses, community groups, Big Food and Castell Howell, which are members of the wholesale federation, have provided food for local children—not just in the summer but during the Christmas holidays. I have lost count of the families we have supported, but it is easily in excess of 30,000.

This summer, we thought our lunch club would be able to stand down, as the Welsh Labour Government recognised the issue and introduced a continuation of free school meals throughout the holidays. However, my grand, quiet summer has been interrupted by coronavirus and over the past 12 weeks we have been busy preparing and delivering more than 20,000 meals to vulnerable families across Swansea. Again, that was achieved with the support of Swansea Council, wonderful volunteers, Mecca bingo, and huge food donations from members of the wholesale federation—ironically, one of the few sectors not to have received any Government pandemic support.

The Welsh Labour Government’s early decision to guarantee funding for free school meals throughout the school holidays is testament to their understanding of real-life issues and their ability to react to this real-life issue. We are hearing more and more harrowing stories of parents going without in order to feed their children—not because they are making thoughtless decisions on what to spend their money but because they do not have the money in the first place.

Almost two months ago, the Welsh Labour Government made an announcement about continued funding for free school meals during the summer holidays. I welcome the fact that today the Prime Minister and the Government have finally, after immense pressure, U-turned on their original decision—again, following Wales’s lead—but I question why they did not make the obvious and compassionate decision in the first place, as that would have saved many families a lot of anxiety in recent weeks. Many families were concerned that during the school holidays they would be sending their children to bed with empty bellies. Welsh Labour led the way, and I am proud to be the deputy leader of Welsh Labour. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] Thank you. I wonder: without ​huge pressure from Labour Members, Conservative Back Benchers and an international football star, and a public outcry, would the Prime Minister ever have reached the right decision and made a U-turn on this policy? That is food for thought, but I am afraid that the jury is out to lunch on the answer.