Jonathan Gullis – 2020 Speech on Free School Meals

The speech made by Jonathan Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, in the House of Commons on 21 October 2020.

Unfortunately, I will have to start by referring to the comments made by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy). I have high regard for her, but I found her moral superiority quite distressing. I spent eight years of my life working as a secondary school teacher, the overwhelming majority of which was as a head of year, working in some of the most disadvantaged parts of London and Birmingham, seeing the impact of child poverty and child hunger but also of not having a stable family and good role models and of crime and drugs in a local community. I refuse to be lectured by Opposition Members who have not walked in my shoes and seen the things that I have had to witness in my career. I hope the hon. Lady will reflect on those remarks. [Interruption.] I will not be lectured by those on the shadow Front Bench who have not worked in the schools I have worked in or seen the things I have seen. I refuse to be shouted down and treated in this manner.

Let us be very clear about this extension. This is not a one-off extension—this is about free school meals being permanently provided outside of school time. First, who is going to fund that—the school or the state? Do schools provide the meals on-site, or do they have to deliver food parcels? If so, do they have to renegotiate their contracts? Have the unions supported that? Is there understanding of the voucher system, and are they being used in an appropriate and responsible manner? I have had supermarkets, parents and schools contact me directly to say that they have grave concerns about the way in which those vouchers have been used.

This Government have done remarkable work on holiday programmes. I want to mention the Hubb Foundation and its “Ay Up Duck” campaign, run by Carol Shanahan, the co-owner of Port Vale football club, and Adam Yates, a former professional footballer. The Hubb Foundation is providing thousands of meals across the city and providing hundreds of children and parents with the opportunity to participate in activities that not only improve their physical and mental health but ensure that they are fed and that the local authority and schools have health and wellbeing checks done on a regular basis over the holiday.

If we were to have a serious discussion about how to tackle this issue, one way to do that is to reduce the summer holiday from six weeks to four weeks. Childcare costs £133 a week on average. If we redistributed those two weeks, with one in the October half-term and one in the May half-term, we could bring down the cost of the ​summer holiday for parents and help them to be better able to access the food that they need. Free school meals are indeed important, but it is the role of the school to educate, not to be the welfare state.