Could you explain why you voted the way you did on the free school meals vote?
Across Newcastle, more than 13 000 children are at risk of going hungry during the school holidays. For the government to withdraw support for free school meals, as the rate of infection increases and given the lack of support for businesses to cope with public health restrictions, is reckless and cruel.
Thankfully, our city stepped up and delivered meals during half term to those most in need, but this shouldn’t have been necessary and is a damning indictment of this government and the rise in child poverty on its watch.
What else do you think should be done to help disadvantaged children, at a local or national level?
The North East currently has the second highest rate of child poverty of any English region – with 35% of children in the region living in relative poverty, compared to 30% nationally – and the highest proportion of pupils in receipt of free school meals. But providing school meals is the very least we can and need to do.
We need to lift people out of poverty. That means the government need to stop penalising disadvantaged families with welfare cuts and sanctions. It means investing to create good quality and better paying jobs so that families going out to work can earn enough to make a living. We need to invest in education and training opportunities for our young people so that no child is held back.
Poverty is not evitable. It’s a result of decisions by those in power. We’ve had a decade of austerity which has seen many schemes for lifting people out of poverty cut back, and rising child poverty is the result.
What do you think of the motion being voted down? What's the mood amongst Labour MPs about the vote? How do they feel about it?
The result of the vote in Parliament was very disappointing. There is widespread support across the country for extending free school meals and the cost of doing so is a fraction of the money the government are currently spending on consultants for Brexit. There has been huge support for Marcus Rashford’s petition on this issue but still an overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs held the government’s line and voted to block the plan. They need to justify that decision to their constituents and the families this is hurting.
What do you think about the government’s performance in office so far?
The fact we’re now in a second lockdown is hugely disappointing, and we will continue in this cycle until the government get a real grip on their response to the pandemic. They were too slow to react to protect care homes and too slow to provide key workers with PPE [Personal Protective Equipment].
Test, trace and isolate was meant to keep the rate of infection down until we secured a vaccine. Instead, the government’s incompetent handling of what has become an enormously expensive system means cases are rising, hospital admissions are rising, and so we have new lockdown measures in place.
I am deeply worried about this government’s ability to tackle the virus and keep people safe, while safeguarding jobs.
The article in which this interview is quoted can be found here.
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