Social care, free school meals and universal credit

On Monday I asked the Local Government minister about the cuts to social care in Derbyshire that have meant that GPs in some areas of High Peak cannot find carers able to look after terminally ill patients in their own home.

It is heart-breaking that elderly patients are having to spend their last weeks in hospital when they want to be able to spend precious time at home with their loved ones.

And it is not right that patients are being sent home too early after an operation because our hospitals do not have enough beds for people who desperately need them.

Short term cuts often create long-term – and far more expensive – problems.  That is becoming apparent all across the country after eight years of constant cuts.

The Chancellor’s Spring Statement was a chance to look again at the policy of austerity and its impacts, but I am sorry to say that the Government has refused to do so, in spite of the evidence of the harm to individuals and the far higher long-term costs that are stacking up.

One such area on which we voted on Tuesday, and where I have been working very hard with MPs of all parties to change the government’s mind, is on the provision of school dinners to children of families on Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is being used to cut the government’s welfare bill by around £5 billion – and many of the cuts fall on lone parents who will be on average £1,300 a year worse off.  So areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out have seen a huge increase in families needing food banks as they can’t afford enough to eat.

Teachers say they have to take food into schools as some children are simply too hungry to concentrate on their lessons.

Until now, at least, families on Universal Credit have been able to claim Free School Meals so their children can eat a hot and nutritious lunch to help them at school.  But now the government are seeking to limit Free School Meals to families who earn less than about £600 a month.

Even though Derbyshire’s dinner money is one of the lowest in the country, a family earning £600 a month cannot afford £80 a month for school dinners for 2 children.

As I write, I am hoping that the government will change their mind before we see more children going hungry, families in food banks, and more long-term costs of child poverty.

From the government’s reaction so far to the impact of austerity on both the old and the young, I don’t think so.  But I will keep on trying.

You can watch my speech here: