Lots of people might wonder what I meant by a ‘food desert’ here in Blackpool when I invited the food minister Victoria Prentis up to Blackpool to explore food poverty. Surely there is more to food in Blackpool than just the Gregg’s Pasty I jokingly referred to as the only lunch option.
Of course there is. Hundreds of cafes and restaurants around the constituency, most of which I try and visit at what time or another, and who have all been benefitting from extra custom thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme over the summer.
But sadly too many families locally simply haven’t got the money to eat out. They are stuck in what are called ‘food deserts’ where it can be all but impossible to find good value, fresh fruit and veg needed to make nutritious, healthy meals. It means too many families relying on less healthy convenience take aways like the one I referred to.
We know reliance on food banks spikes during school holidays. Families where children receive free school meals during term time don’t get them during the school holidays – and during lockdown it was a challenge. Local schools did a superb job delivering the meals, and much more besides, and carried on during school holidays in meeting the complex needs of many families.
This was all part of a wider programme to support families during the school holidays with activities for children and other ways that still enable parents to work and get the children looked after.
Footballer Marcus Rashford and many others including myself have been backing the proposals in the National Food Strategy to tackle these issues. I think they have the potential to make an immense difference for children locally, and go a long way to helping children catch up on their missed education.
The proposals include:
- Expand eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits). Under this recommendation, we estimate an additional 1.5 million, 7-16 year olds, would benefit from free school meals, taking the total number of children to 2.6 million. This is estimated to cost an additional £670 million a year.
- Extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of Free School Meals. In 2019, this programme reached 50,000 children. Under this recommendation, we estimate an additional 1.1 million children will participate in the programme.
By getting Victoria Prentis up here to understand the real differences these proposals will make to the lives of my constituents is the best way to drive policy change in Government, and precisely what I should be doing as an MP for Blackpool.