Angela Rayner: ‘I Went Without Food As A Child, So I Know The Value Of Free School Meals’

The Shadow First Secretary of State on why the Government needs to do more to make sure no child goes hungry.


by Angela Rayner |
Updated on

When I was growing up, the free school meal I got at lunchtime was usually my first meal of the day. It was a lifeline. I rarely had breakfast and food was scarce when I got home afterwards. So I was appalled by Conservative MPs voting to let children go hungry over the October half-term holidays – and if the Government doesn’t change course and extend free school meals over the Christmas break, the Labour Party will hold another vote in Parliament to force them to do the right thing.

Since the controversial vote, much of the reaction has been humbling and inspiring. Businesses who are themselves facing huge financial challenges are stepping in, and I am so proud of Labour councils across the country who have been feeding our hungry kids.

But there has been another response too, as grim as it is predictable. A Tory MP said free school meals are effectively a direct payment to brothels and drug dealers. Another said food parcels are used to buy drugs. And my Twitter feed was full of people offering tips to working class parents on how to cook a cheap meal.

As someone who relied on free school meals, I have found the stigmatisation of working class families disgusting. Believe me, working class parents know better than anyone how to create a meal out of a seemingly empty cupboard. We need to stop talking about shopping and start talking about the systemic issues of low pay and unaffordable housing.

Believe me, working class parents know better than anyone how to create a meal out of a seemingly empty cupboard.

Before this pandemic hit there were already over four million UK children living in poverty, a figure that’s been rising year on year. That is nine kids in every class of 30. Of those, the vast majority live in households where parents are working, struggling to make ends meet because their jobs do not pay enough to buy food and pay the rent.

The human cost of a chronic housing crisis is the 130,000 children in our country who are homeless, living in temporary accommodation, and the millions more living in housing that is expensive, insecure and inadequate.

READ MORE: Free School Meals: From How Your MP Voted To Ways To Help End Food Poverty, Here's Everything You Need To Know

Child poverty is a pandemic of its own in the UK and it reflects the ills of our society – poverty wages, insecure work, costly housing and a social security safety net that successive Tory Governments have cut to ribbons. Even now, in the grips of a pandemic, people still have to wait five weeks for their first Universal Credit payment.

We know that free school meals over the holidays won’t fix this crisis. As Marcus Rashford rightly says, it’s another sticking plaster. But these vulnerable kids need our help now. The PM said that he understands the issue of holiday hunger but there is a ‘debate’ to be had about how to deal with it. We already had the debate in Parliament, and the Prime Minister and his MPs voted against feeding hungry kids during the holidays.

I’m all for a debate about the structural causes of child poverty. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that no child goes hungry this Christmas.

Read more: Everyone Is Signing This Petition To Stop The Use Of Public Money On MPs Meals

Read more: Jack Monroe: ''Annunziata Rees-Mogg Assumes Poor People Don't Cook More Because They're Lazy Or Stupid - Here's Why She's Wrong'

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us