The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 7th August:
Summer holidays are normally a time to relax and unwind from the previous school year.
This summer, however, millions of British households are unsure if their finances will survive until September. The next few weeks will be especially difficult for families who have been hit hard by job losses or reduced incomes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many do not know how they will make ends meet.
Every year millions of children across England go hungry over the summer break. The worst affected are the 1.3million children who are eligible for free school meals. In Barnsley alone, there are over 6000 children who rely on the scheme. These kids miss out when schools are shut for the summer.
Last month Labour called on the Government to reverse its decision to end the COVID-19 voucher scheme at the end of the Summer term. The scheme provided vital food support to children at home during the pandemic. Manchester United player, Marcus Rashford, added his voice to the campaign, which eventually saw the Government commit to extending the free school meals voucher scheme during the holidays.
I am glad the Government realised it was making a mistake and took action to make sure vulnerable children were fed this summer. But it remains the case that working families across the country have been pushed into poverty by this pandemic.
Families and parents are now turning to foodbanks to get by.
On a visit to Barnsley foodbank last week, volunteers informed me that demand for emergency food parcels has trebled. At the same time donations to foodbanks have fallen to an all-time low as households have had to tighten up on spending to get through this crisis.
The fact that many parents and carers simply cannot afford to feed their kids is deeply worrying.
The Government needs to do more to help make sure children are well-fed and have the resources they need to reach their potential.
We cannot expect children to do well at school if they are hungry. That is why I stood on a manifesto that pledged to provide all primary school children with a free school meal. It is also why I started my school uniform exchange last summer.
It is unacceptable that families that are already struggling to get by are forced into greater financial difficulty by extortionate compulsory uniform costs. I have been contacted by parents and carers who have had to pay over £120 for one child, before optional extras and other children are even taken into consideration.
In Parliament, I have called for school uniform prices to be reduced and for parents to be able to purchases uniform from a range of shops without expensive logos.
The generosity of families across Barnsley who donated unwanted or extra school uniforms to the exchange was overwhelming. Even though I was unable to run the exchange this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak, I still have some items left over from the previous year. If anyone has specific requests for items of school uniform, or if anyone has any questions regarding the exchange, you can email me at [email protected] or call my office on 01226 743483.