James Wild column: Committed to ending child poverty
The latest column from North West Norfolk's MP during the pandemic, Friday, October 30, 2020
As work continues on potential Covid-19 vaccines, it is heartening that latest figures show that 40,000 more people in Norfolk and Waveney have had a NHS flu vaccine this year so far compared to last.
Getting a flu jab is more important than ever, as people at high risk from Covid-19 are most at risk from flu. When I spoke to QEH’s Chief Executive, 70 per cent of staff there had also had their vaccine.
However, I know how frustrating it is for constituents who haven’t yet managed to get an appointment. While the distribution of the vaccine is phased, I keep raising cases to try and accelerate supply in West Norfolk.
Huge efforts are being made but there is no guarantee of a Covid vaccine. So increasing testing capability and following social distancing guidance are vital to help control the infection rate. As I keep repeating, there is no room for complacency particularly as we head into winter.
Marcus Rashford’s campaigning and last week’s debate in Parliament on free school meals during holidays has pushed child poverty up the agenda. This is welcome. However, one of the disappointing aspects in this debate has been claims that not all MPs are committed to ensuring that no child goes hungry. Some even claim Conservatives want to “starve children.”
I am fully committed to tackling child poverty and to the provision of free school meals. It is a Conservative government that has expanded eligibility to more children including every child in reception, year 1 and year 2, and to children of families on lower incomes with no recourse to public funds. That is not the action of a party that is anything other than strongly committed to tackling child poverty and helping low income families.
When schools were largely closed, the government rightly took the decision to provide vouchers for pupils learning at home and I supported this continuing as an exceptional measure through the summer.
Vulnerable families in North West Norfolk need additional help particularly at this most difficult time. Charities and other volunteers who have provided support through the pandemic and now are to be thanked and congratulated – it is a sign of the strong community and charitable spirit in West Norfolk.
The issue is not whether to, but how best to support low income families.
In my view strengthening the welfare system and developing targeted programmes are a better approach than providing vouchers indefinitely. I support the £9 billion of extra welfare payments we are providing - which means an extra £1,040 for families on Universal Credit.
In addition, Norfolk County Council has been given an additional £1 million to support families including people struggling to afford food or essentials. There are also other targeted schemes such as the Holiday and Activities Programme which provides sport as well as cooking classes for children that could be expanded.
Whether you support vouchers or an alternative approach, let’s debate that with respect and agree there is a shared objective to ensure no child goes hungry.This issue is too important not to do that.