Last week I was lucky enough to be chosen to ask a question of the Prime Minister. I know many constituents have burning questions for the PM, so I decided to ask High Peak residents what question they would like me to ask.
In the course of a weekend Facebook had solicited over 150 suggestions, with ‘likes’ for the different questions proposed, so I could see which questions were most popular.
I asked the question most suggested and liked – how the Prime Minister could justify the children of families in poverty earning just £145 a week not receiving a nutritious school meal when MPs receive subsidised catering.
Conservative MPs tried to shout me down, and – as usual at PMQs – the question was not answered. In fact, the Prime Minister responded about pensioners and income tax whilst wagging her finger at me!
So I have written to Theresa May to set out the facts about child poverty and Free School Meals. I await her reply. But the question has resonated with people across the country, and the video has been viewed over half a million times.
Fighting child poverty has always been very important me, and I was pleased that so many people locally share this concern.
Over a quarter of British children are in poverty and teachers see the impacts every day. The evidence this week that teachers are having to provide food, shoes and coats, school uniforms and sanitary products for children makes chilling reading.
In the world’s 6th richest country, this shouldn’t be happening. I believe the role of government is to tackle poverty and inequality. But the Equality and Human Rights Commission study last month predicted that 1.5 million more children will be in poverty in 4 years’ time, due to the effects of tax and benefit policies.
And the impact of all the other cuts we are seeing in High Peak will be felt most by people who have the least – cuts to schools, to childcare, to buses and to libraries.
All of these services help people who are poorer to improve their lives – through education, using computers at libraries, or travelling to work if they can’t afford a car.
To me, it’s not just unfair, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the means for people to escape poverty and reduce their need for support from the state. It will end up costing us all more.
Policies like these led the whole Social Mobility Commission to resign in despair 4 months ago, and the Prime Minister still hasn’t appointed a new head to scrutinise government policies on social mobility.
Investing in our children, so they can grow up without feeling hungry and cold, go to school ready and able to learn, is the best way to ensure our future prosperity as a nation.
Instead, we are seeing young people beset by an epidemic of mental health problems as their families struggle against debt and despair, and malnutrition and a return of rickets as children don’t get enough nutritious food.
Whether in my politics, or in my previous job, working for low-paid shopworkers, I have always tried to stand up for people who struggle. As an MP I will carry on fighting against cuts to benefits and rising child poverty. And I am proud to be part of the party who have launched a National Education Service to enable both children and adults to improve their learning and skills, to help us all to grow a better and more prosperous country