Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Newspaper column 24 January 2018 - Help during the holidays

Last week I had a packed schedule in Parliament, attending many different events on behalf of the people of Mid-Cornwall, including a National Farmers Union Reception supporting local beer and cheese producers, hosting an Open Doors Reception supporting persecuted Christians around the world, and a meeting discussing our continuing support for Surfers Against Sewage in the continuing fight against plastics that end up in our seas. I also spoke on the Space Industry Bill, highlighting the potential of bringing the spaceport to Cornwall, and I am pleased to have been appointed to the committee that will consider this legislation as it moves through Parliament.

On Friday I was back in Cornwall, including meeting local businesses, the Student Council at Fowey Primary School to discuss my work as MP and a meeting with the Cornwall Rural Housing Association to discuss their plans for the old Carclaze Infant School in St Austell on Friday and a constituency advice surgery in Newquay on Saturday.

One announcement that I was pleased to hear last week was from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP, who confirmed that the Government will launch research into how best to ensure that more children from disadvantaged families benefit from healthy meals and positive activities during the holidays.

Research from charities, including the Trussell Trust, has shown there can be rising demand at foodbanks during the summer holidays for example, when the families of children who are entitled to free school meals during term time struggle to afford to feed their children. There is no doubt that this is an issue that many families here in Mid-Cornwall face.

The Government is now going to investigate the best way to ensure that the most disadvantaged children have access to activities and healthy meals in the school holidays. The research programme will include funding for a targeted pilot programme. That will allow the Government to consider if and how they should intervene in the long term. As I have said before, just throwing money at an issue won’t automatically solve it, so I am pleased to see that the programme of work will focus on the best and most cost-effective ways to address what is clearly an issue for some of our more vulnerable families.

As with everything, my job is to ensure that Cornwall is properly considered in any work that takes place. I am pleased that the Minister said the Government is aiming to cover rural as well as urban areas, to work with different types of schools and across educational phases, and to ensure that provision can be accessed by children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The research programme will begin immediately and will include some initial work in the 2018 summer holidays followed by further piloting in the 2019 Easter ​and summer holidays. The Government work will investigate how to provide a balanced, enriched programme for the most disadvantaged school-age pupils and I will be watching the work closely to ensure it is targeted correctly and that its results can be applied across the whole of the country, to support those who need it most.