It is significant that today the Marcus Rashford petition calling for the Government to provide free school holiday meals in England will pass the 1 Million point very shortly. The petition was set up on 15th October before Parliament debated the proposal and it reached just over 300,000 signatures on the night before a vote was due to take place on 21st October. Despite this the Government demanded its party members to vote against the proposal (and they succeeded with most of them) with 321 votes against 261. Since then there has been almost 700,000 more signatures added to the petition and it will shortly have passed the 1M point. It is clear that with calls such as Pubs and Cafes banning MPs and a wide range of other challenges that the pressure on Boris Johnson to do a U turn is becoming very significant. Sadly gaining support for British children who are on low incomes does seem to raise some opposition from people who seem unable to understand the issues behind it which is concerning to those of us who want the Government to make a very modest change for a significant gain for the people impacted.
Unfortunately if we move away from the needs of the small group of poor children who are part of our nation to a much smaller number of children who arrive on our shores for asylum without parents, the numbers of people unwilling to support their need is even greater. However thankfully there are still many people who want these children to be helped and given the tragedy of what happened yesterday with death of several people in a boat that sunk we now need to resolve some of these issues as a matter of very high priority. The vote last Wednesday for free lunches during holidays was not the only damaging vote within the House of Commons last week. Two days earlier on Monday 19th of October, several other votes took place in the House of Commons including one based on a “motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.” made by Kevin Foster who is the MP for Torbay which is of course a coast based constituency. He is also the the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Immigration and Future Borders which many of us would assume is a role intended to help protect people and in particular children who arrive in our nation. The amendment called for:
(1) The Secretary of State must commission and publish an independent assessment of the impact of section 1, and Schedule 1, on the social care sector within six months of this Act being passed.
(2) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent Chair to conduct the assessment.
(3) The assessment must consider the impact of provisions in section 1, and Schedule 1, on—(a) the social care workforce;(b) available visa routes for social care workers;(c) long-term consequences for workforce recruitment, training and employee terms and conditions; and(d) such other relevant matters as the independent Chair deems appropriate.(4) A copy of the independent assessment must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within fourteen days of its publishing date.
The vote to oppose the amendment took place under the title of “Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — After Clause 4 – Children in Care and Children Entitled to Care Leaving Support: Entitlement to Remain” Sadly nearly all of the Conservative MPs voted to oppose this very sensible amendment. Along with the party members Julian Lewis who is still currently an Independent MP voted to oppose it and even more disturbingly Chris Elmore who is the Labour MP for Ogmore also voted to oppose it. Although the Government suceeded with 330 votes to 258, members of all other parties supported the amendment and indeed two Conservatives also voted to support it. They were Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) and Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham). Along with this problematic vote other issues that are emerging at the moment indicate we clearly need an independent person or group of independents who if not the Chair to conduct the sort of assessment will be able to resolve matters such as the risk to the children of travelling by boat and as this community care online magazine article explains “Unaccompanied children held for ‘far too long’ at intake unit and some sent to adult centres, say inspectors – Prison inspectors find asylum-seeking children held at Kent short-term centre for 17 hours on average and often overnight, and waiting long periods to see social workers”
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are waiting “far too long” at a Kent intake unit, receiving inadequate welfare interviews and, in some cases, being mistakenly sent to adult detention facilities, inspectors have found. In a report from an unannounced inspection last month, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found that unaccompanied children were being held at the Kent Intake Unit (KIU) – a “cramped” facility that had no proper sleeping facilities -for 17 hours on average and often overnight with unrelated adults. Among the 73 unaccompanied children who arrived at the KIU from June to August was one 15-year old boy who was held for over 66 hours. Of this case, the report said: “Electronic records gave no indication of detention in this case having been reviewed, when social services were called or why he was held for so long.” The waits were partly due to Kent council not having had capacity to accept any more unaccompanied children into its care since August, meaning young people faced a longer wait for social workers to arrive from other authorities.
It is clear we need to find a new way of dealing with some of these issues and sadly the Government does not appear any more willing to help resolve these than they are to deal with feeding children in low income families during holidays.