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by Lamiat Sabin
LABOUR increased pressure on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to resign for letting down children being homeschooled during the pandemic, ahead of this evening’s Commons votes on several education and welfare policies.
The party used opposition day to debate free school meals, a reversal of the government’s plan to cut universal credit (UC) and access to home learning for children without laptops and internet.
The votes are due to take place after the Morning Star goes to press.
Labour warned Tory MPs not to extend the “catalogue of chaos” over free school meals support.
The debate came after the Department for Education issued new guidance last week, saying that schools do not have to provide free meals for 1.4 million eligible children during the February half-term break.
Labour also called on the Conservatives to guarantee that children entitled to free school meals benefit from cash payments so that parents and guardians can buy appropriate food themselves.
Mr Williamson’s counterpart Kate Green told MPs that the meagre food parcels provided for children in lieu of free school meals were an “absolute scandal.”
She said that it had taken Mr Williamson until the third week of the school term to decide to revive the supermarket voucher scheme for all schools in England.
In his reply, Mr Williamson said: “If the honourable lady would stop chuntering from a sedentary position, she would have a chance of hearing my answer.
“We have given schools … the opportunity to either do food parcels – they are given the opportunity to do vouchers that are locally procured – or the national voucher scheme and over 15,000 of those vouchers have already been despatched today.”
Ms Green said: “So we got the answer in the end.
“But the truth is that he was late in planning the voucher scheme, he was late getting laptops to students, late consulting on replacing exams and late announcing that students would not return to school in January.
“After delay after delay, has he finally realised what parents, pupils and staff have known for months, he just isn’t up to the job?”
Mr Williamson said that 1.3m laptops have been issued to children.
Before the vote, National Education Union joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “More than one in four children across the UK are growing up trapped in poverty, but we are still having the same conversations about whether MPs will do the right thing to tackle the scourge of child poverty in 2021.”
The PCS union, which has members who issue benefits, called on MPs to vote for keeping the temporary £20 a week uplift to UC.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that to scrap it in the middle of a pandemic would be “cruel and obscene,” calling for the boost to be made “permanent and increased going forward.”
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