Support for families must be stepped up
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Voice
WE owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who has selflessly volunteered to help others during this COVID-19 pandemic. From delivering shopping and distributing food parcels to supporting the vaccine roll-out, volunteers have been crucial in getting the country through this crisis. But the Government needs to do more to ensure people would not be left destitute without these voluntary efforts.
Some of you will have seen the shameful images of the food “hampers” distributed to some children on free school meals who are currently not in school. It is shocking this was allowed to happen, and even more shocking that these packages apparently met Government guidelines. Fortunately, in Bristol, free school meal deliveries have mostly been of a significantly higher quality, but please do let me know if you, or anyone you know, has had any problems.
I am disappointed the Government has announced its decision to suspend free school meals over the February half term. Having already been shamed twice into providing meals over the school holidays, thanks in no small part to Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaigning, I hope ministers will once again be forced to reconsider.
We are also calling on the Government to maintain the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit beyond the end of March, and to give those on legacy benefits, which includes many with disabilities, the same treatment.
I will continue lobbying the Government to tackle the root causes driving child food poverty, whilst supporting local organisations like Feeding Bristol and East Bristol Foodbank, which have done such brilliant work during the pandemic.
Another concern of mine is how many children are unable to engage fully in home learning, because of lack of internet access: 1.8 million children are without a device at home, and almost a million children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.
Getting children online should have been a national priority. Although the Government is now, finally, distributing laptops more quickly after having missed its June target, it still only intends to distribute 1.3 million devices, which may lead to up to half a million children unable to learn from home. Fishponds Academy is still awaiting delivery of the devices it ordered from the Government back in October and has requested donations of unused laptops or tablets to enable their pupils to access online learning. They have a local company onboard willing to data wipe all incoming devices for free; please do donate if you can.
Over the next month, my focus will be ensuring support is there for everyone who needs it. Many people who have had their livelihoods taken away will have to wait some time until they can return to work – they and their families must be properly supported until then.