First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, February 2021.

Free School Meals

The government promised to feed children eligible for free school meals during the coronavirus crisis. But by replacing free school meals vouchers with food parcels, children up and down the country are going hungry. The picture of the contents of  food parcel intended to last 5 days was criticised by Labour leader Keir Starmer as “woefully inadequate”. He wanted it sorted immediately. “The truth is, families come last under this government, whether it’s exams, free school meals or childcare.”

Marcus Rashford also shared images of food parcels, saying they were “not good enough”, that children should not go hungry, and that “we must do better”. He asked for a meeting with the firm that supplied the meals. Labour Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green, said “Parents should be trusted by giving the the money for free school meals to ensure their children are not going hungry”.

The government was finally forced into a U-turn. It emerged that its own guidance on what should be in food parcels was srikingly similar to images circulating on social media that the Prime Minister had described as “unacceptable”!

And then, fresh guidance fro the Department for Education: “Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouches during the February half term.” With the dust barely settled following a furious row over substandard food parcels, the government appeared to be heading into yet another damaging dispute over children going hungry during the holidays.

Laptops for children

Nearly 2 million children in the UK have no home access to a computer. There is still no full government rollout of IT equipment for these children. Labour County Councillor Jack Abbott says the number of laptops given out in Suffolk is less than a thousand – far below what is needed.

The Government Education Secretary rejected offers from internet providers for free broadband vouchers. Schools have done everything they can to support their pupils and mobile operators have made data free for school children. But Jack Abbott fears this Government’s repeated failures are going to take months, if not years, for children to recover from.

Damage to bees

Bees pollinate three quarters of the world’s crops. We wouldn’t last long without them. But neonicotinoids pesticides are being reintroduced by the government for use on sugar beet for 120 days. They damage bees’ navigation, leaving them lost and confused. The Wildlife Trusts say neonicotinoids pose a significant environmental risk. A third of the UK bee population is though to have vanished in a decade, yet up to three quarters of crop species are pollinated by bees. The original ban on these bee-killing pesticides was introduced in Europe. Environmentalists say during the biodiversity crisis, when at least half the world’s insects have disappeared, the government should be doing everything it can to save bees, not allow them to be killed.

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