Chloe Smith
MP for Norwich North

Important news for TODAY about free school meals and more

Author: Chloe Smith, Updated: 18 January 2021 11:49

Here is essential info for parents in north Norwich as the scheme goes live TODAY to provide free school meal vouchers to cover the four-week period between 18 January – 12 February:
And if you work in a school, here's what schools need to know:
I want to make sure that Norwich parents know how they can get support while schools are closed.  If you need help in Norfolk, please look here:  Nationally, here is what is going on:
I am committed to ensuring that young people have the support and opportunities to succeed for the future and will always support a safety net being provided to those who need it the most.  Families that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and need extra support this winter with food and bills have benefitted from the £170 million scheme unveiled by the Government in November last year, with Norfolk receiving £2,740,592.
There is also help through benefits.  The Government’s comprehensive £280 billion response to the pandemic included a temporary and emergency £6 billion increase to welfare support specifically designed to help low income families, including increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits by £1,000 for 12 months.  This is just one of a range of measures the Government has taken to support vulnerable families.
Universal Credit has delivered for nearly 6 million low income people and families through this emergency.  There will be a debate about this in Parliament today, called by the Labour Party just to play a few games.  This is strange, because actually they are committed to scrapping Universal Credit entirely.  I think it is more important to make sure constituents have good information than to play political games, so that's why I'm blogging now.
There'll be a debate on free school meals too, and the facts are as follows:  the Government is committed to supporting families to feed their children during both term-time and holidays;  they've provided more than £380m in supermarket vouchers to support pupils eligible for Free School Meals;  the £170m COVID Winter Grant Scheme and £220m Holiday Activities and Food programme will support children during the holidays and will continue to support families during the pandemic;  the Government has cracked down on getting reports of poor-quality food parcels and insisted on urgent action from leading suppliers to ensure the quality of all food provided meets the School Food Standards;  I posted about that last week for constituents here:
Also, the Government is investing over £400 million in remote education, including securing 1.3 million laptops and tablets to support remote education;  over 700,000 laptops and tablets have been delivered to schools since the start of the pandemic, as well as over 54,000 4G wireless routers for disadvantaged children;  the Government is partnering with the UK’s leading mobile operators to provide free data to help disadvantaged children get online as well as providing support for schools to introduce and set up on a digital education platform.
I think it is very important that we look in the round at the next steps that may need to be taken to support households, depending on what happens next in the pandemic.  Votes in Parliament on this should not be played as games, but should be focused on the Budget, which is in March.  Sensible people recognise that you have to be able to look at it all together, at the right time.  For example, a permanent increase to Universal Credit would cost £6 billion a year.  This would need to be found, like all public spending does.  It could be done by an increase in income tax by 1% for 30 million taxpayers, i.e. £175 extra tax every year if you earn £30,000, PLUS a 5p increase in fuel duty for everyone who drives.  Those are the kind of sums that need to be thought through properly as a grown-up response to what we should do after this crisis.  It's a shame to see the Labour Party fall short of that standard, choosing to score political points in the middle of a global pandemic rather than do the hard work to ensure that the right support is available for everyone's needs.
As always, I want to support my constituents at this tough time, so if you need help or are aware of any local specific issues please email me or call my constituency office on 01603 414756.