Wirral MP: Government failing families over food and access to online learning

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21 Jan 2021
Margaret Greenwood MP has hit out at the government for refusing to provide free school meals over the February half-term as ministers said that families will instead be able to receive support through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme. 

However, that funding is discretionary and is to be used between December 2020 and March 2021 for various hardship costs rather than just food. 

The Wirral West MP, who was speaking during a debate in Parliament, also criticised ministers for not delivering the IT equipment that pupils need to enable them to learn from home. Wirral Council has stepped in, offering computers that are not currently in use to schools to help pupils learn at home during the lockdown, and the council will also be coordinating the collection of donated equipment. 

After deciding to close schools to the majority of pupils across England, the government said that children ‘who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)’ can still attend classrooms. 

Margaret Greenwood said that this has led to a rise in the number of pupils in attendance at schools, leading to unnecessary stress for teachers, pupils and parents. She argued that ministers are putting at risk the public health programme by increasing the risk of infection in our communities. 

At the end of the debate, Labour forced a vote to demand the government guarantees that children will receive the full value of free school meals support including in the school holidays, and set a date by which every pupil will have the equipment needed to learn remotely. 

The vote was won by 272 votes to zero, with Conservative MPs abstaining. The result is, however, non-binding on the government. 

Speaking afterwards, Margaret Greenwood MP said: 

“The government’s refusal to provide free school meals over half-term is a real blow to families up and down the country. 

“Children cannot learn when they are hungry. 

“Ministers must make sure that pupils who are eligible for free school meals get the support that they need all year round. 

“The government should also make sure that every child has a device and Internet access at home if they need it.  

“Simply saying that children who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home can continue to attend school is to dodge responsibility. It is also putting less affluent communities at greater increased risk of infection, fuelling existing health inequalities. 

“Teachers are overwhelmed. One teacher wrote to me to say that her school has 50% of children in attendance and that her own class actually has 70% in attendance. She is working very hard to meet the needs of her class in school and then going home to meet the needs of her home learners. 

“It is wholly unfair that teachers, pupils and parents are being put under stress because of the government's failure to provide the support and resources that children need to learn."  

You can watch Margaret Greenwood MP’s contribution to the debate here: https://tinyurl.com/y6hnu3mv.  

You can read the text of her speech here: https://tinyurl.com/y3j8tmns.