Labour: Gavin Williamson's 'incompetence' has left children hungry

17 January 2021, 22:42 | Updated: 17 January 2021, 22:44

Kate Green said children have gone hungry because of Gavin Williamson&squot;s "incompetence" as Education Secretary
Kate Green said children have gone hungry because of Gavin Williamson's "incompetence" as Education Secretary. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Children have gone hungry because of Gavin Williamson's "incompetence" as Education Secretary, Labour has said, ahead of a Commons debate on free school meal provision.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green accused her opposite number of letting parents down "time and time again".

Labour will use an opposition day debate in the Commons on Monday afternoon to say that eligible families should be guaranteed to receive the full value of free school meals throughout the year, including during the holidays.

The debate comes after public outcry last week when images of boxes for children containing just £4 or £5 worth of food intended to last a week were shared online.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded the parcels an insult to the families that had received them, with the Education Secretary saying he was '"disgusted" by the "unacceptable" parcels.

The Government faced further controversy over guidance published on the Department for Education website stating schools do not need to provide parcels or vouchers over the February half-term break.

Instead, it said families eligible for free school meals would be supported through the Government's Covid Winter Grant Scheme run by councils.

Labour will urge MPs to vote to guarantee that children will receive the full value of free school meals - including over the February break - during Monday's debate.

Ms Green said: "Gavin Williamson has created a catalogue of chaos on free school meals.

"Time and time again, he has let down the parents desperately trying to put food on the table and the children who have gone hungry through his incompetence.

"He must guarantee that children will get free school meals over the February half term and put trust in parents by giving them the money for free school meals to ensure their children do not go hungry.

"Conservative MPs will have the opportunity to vote with Labour today to finally give families the support they need to get through this crisis."

A Government spokesman said: "As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and help with other essentials such as energy and bills over February half term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.

"Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time while children are learning. Beyond that, there is wider Government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we've made available."

Last week, Ms Green called on Gavin Williamson to resign following the row over food parcels provided to families.

When asked if she thought it was time for the Education Secretary to quit, Ms Green told Good Morning Britain: "Yes I am going to say that, because I think patience has completely run out with Gavin Williamson and I do think it is time for him to go.

"Our children's future, our children's education, our children's well being, is too important to be left in the hands of someone who plainly isn't up to the job and I think it's time for him to go."

It was the first time Ms Green has called directly for Mr Williamson to quit.

It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel said action should be taken against the food provider which compiled "appalling" free school meal parcels for families.

She said action Chartwells should be "ashamed of themselves" after images showing the poor-quality hampers were widely shared on social media.

She told ITV's This Morning that the parcels were "appalling in every way".

"I do think the company that were involved with that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves quite frankly.

"It was thoroughly unacceptable and it is right that the Government are investigating them. I personally think some action should be taken against that company."

Ms Patel was one of a string of Government ministers to condemn the parcels after Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that they were an "insult" to the families who had received them.