Paul Maynard – 2020 Speech on Free School Meals

The speech made by Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, in the House of Commons on 21 October 2020.

As I said earlier, with over 6,000 children eligible for free school meals in my constituency, tackling food poverty during the school holidays is more than important: it is the ultimate example in politics of where something must be done. That is very different from saying that anything should be done. We need to ensure that the right support reaches the right children and, most importantly, in the right manner to have the impact required.

I note the support that has already been provided, not least the £120 million extra spent over the critical summer holiday period. I note the £1,000 a year uplift in universal credit, as well as the £1 billion extra in local housing allowance. It is worth noting that eligibility for universal credit covers far more children than the much narrower eligibility for free school meals does, and that is supporting the financial resilience of many families in my constituency at a time of real and growing insecurity as tier 3 impacts my hospitality sector so devastatingly. It none the less remains a source of deep, deep personal regret that advantage has not been taken in the intervening period since we were here discussing this back before the summer for the Government to reach agreement across the whole of Government—not just within individual Departments—to take a decision that could have obviated the need for this debate. My view is that we need a national and universal summer holiday activity and food support stream to deal with the trials that have occurred. This would avoid any of the stigmatisation that I see in my constituency around eligibility for free school meals. It is essential that children retain a link with an outside body during the longer summer break when child neglect as well as food poverty increase. Such a scheme would also diminish the risk of them losing some of the learning that they have acquired during the academic year.

The policy chief of the Leader of the Opposition, Claire Ainsley, observed, in her previous role with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, that strong families able to withstand the shocks of personal change and external pressures such as job loss are vital. She was clear, as I am, that strong families matter. She also wants to see a return of a sense of agency and autonomy to the lives of some of the most disadvantaged in society—people who have had their ability to make choices about how their lives are structured taken away from them by systems that they have not designed. I am talking about choices that we here take for granted.

I am not convinced that the model on the Order Paper today is the right one. I am not sure that it returns that sense of agency and autonomy that I seek. Politics is not something that we do to people; it is something that we do with people. We need to make much more ​strategic use of Opposition day debates, rather than have the partisan squabbling that we tend to see. I have had 10 years here now. I have yet to see a single Opposition day debate illuminate an issue rather than obscure it further. I am not sure that it is the greatest use of the time that we have in this House—time that is very, very restricted these days.

For all that, the Government must move much more quickly to fill what has now become a policy vacuum and turn the thinking that I know is occurring within Departments into something much more concrete than they argue for—whether it be the spending review, the comprehensive spending review, the autumn fiscal event, or whatever season’s fiscal event it might be. The next time we have big announcements I have big hopes and expectations of what the Government will deliver.