My two principal objectives for my time in politics, which have featured on all my election speeches and literature, is to deliver a Fairer Society and a Fairer Deal for the North. I have often spoken in Parliament, including in my capacity as Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Poverty and the APPG for the Northern Powerhouse, in favour of a more generous welfare system, a minimum wage equivalent to the Real Living Wage, lower taxes for low earners and huge investment in truly-affordable social housing to rent and buy.
Government action on these must be strategic, rather than being buffeted by political campaigns and events or an opportunist opposition. I think it is important to point out that Free School Meals were not provided by the opposition during the fallout of economic catastrophe of the Great Financial Crash of 2008, which saw one million more people added to the unemployment register. Nor did we see a furlough scheme or business support to the extent we have seen under this Government, which will cost the taxpayer in excess of £200bn directly and probably over £400bn when you include the reduction in tax receipts.
How you provide the support is the key to it. In 2019 the Government commissioned a food strategy, https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/ led by Henry Dimbleby, which has recently recommended a £1.2bn annual investment in provision for those on lower incomes. I very much hope that the Government will follow through on many of Mr Dimbleby’s recommendations.
I do believe that, where they can, the best people to feed their children are parents themselves. I have also said many times that I do support making the system more generous during these difficult months. So, I welcome the Winter support package which will enable local authorities to target help where it is needed the most and support families who are in particularly challenging circumstances due to coronavirus.
This includes a £170 million COVID Winter Grant Scheme and tripling existing funding to up to £220 million for the Holiday Activities and Food programme. In addition, we are increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers which support pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy milk, fresh fruit and vegetables and have pledged additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities. These are extraordinary times and it goes without saying that no-one wants to see children go hungry over winter or at any other time.