Today is an important time for Parliament and 1.1m people across the UK who signed a petition formed by Marcus Rashford calling to end child food poverty and that no children’s should go hungry. It is a petition which emerged during the half term in October 2020 and the speed with which it reached over a million signatures was very impressive. Let us hope that several Sussex MPs will participate in the debate today as there have been a very significant number of people in Sussex who have signed it. The largest proportion of signatures in Sussex came from Brighton and Hove with nearly 4% of the people in Brighton Pavilion which is the constituency that Caroline Lucas is the representative of. One imagines that she will attend if there is an opportunity for her to do so along with Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle. In addition to these three Sussex constituencies there was also many signatures from Lewes, Mid Sussex and East Worthing which are constituencies represented by Maria Caulfield, Mims Davies and Tim Loughton. The total number of Sussex signatures was nearly 32,000 people which is a very significant number of people to take the trouble to sign a petition. We represent around 3% of the whole of the nations signatures and indeed the 10,250 signatures from Brighton and Hove is even more significant. Although it is now too late for people to add their names to the petition we are all in a position to be able to send messages to our own MP and perhaps this is a very good example of the sort of theme that would justify allowing Sussex residents to contact Sussex MPs and get a Sussex wide response to such an issue. There are of course many other examples that do emerge from Parliament which may be set out by one or two MPs but which should be considered and responded by all of our Sussex MPs.
Last Wednesday a Sussex MP who is also a Minister responded to a written question which came from Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democratic MP for Bath. Her question related to the funding that needs to be provided to tackle social isolation in disabled children as part of wider covid-19 recovery plans. The Minister who responded was Nick Gibb who is the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. His response began with the following few words
Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are disproportionately affected by being out of education, including missing out on important social interaction with their peers.
As it happens a few months after the last General Election in December 2019 a small group of MPs including several new MPs formed a new All Party Parliamentary Group for Special Educational Needs and Disability. One of these members and a new MP was Sally-Ann Hart who is the Vice Chair of the group which at the end of March published a report under the title of ‘Forgotten. Left Behind. Overlooked.’ Although there are no other Sussex MPs who are part of the All Party Group inevitably all of the Sussex MPs including Sally-Ann Hart and Nick Gibb will have constituents who are impacted by SEND. It would be very inspiring if all of our local MPs could begin to work together on both of these themes.
After some of the Sussex MPs have taken their time to raise calls today to end food poverty for children in Sussex as well as across the whole of our nation, could they all then work together to call for support for the disabled and special educational needs children in our community. One of the potential agencies they could connect with on this subject would be AMAZE which helps families with disabled children and young people in Sussex. It is a charity that began working in Brighton and Hove 20 years ago and now works across the whole of Sussex. There are other groups they could work with on that theme which could include the YMCA Downslink Group. The statement by Nick Gibb included a call that his Department wants to
deliver face to face summer schools, providing opportunities for social interaction. Summer schools funding includes an uplift for pupils in special schools, maintained units in mainstream schools and alternative provision. Guidance for schools includes advice on helping to make a summer school accessible to vulnerable children and those with additional needs.
It would surely make sense for all of our Sussex MPs to cooperate with their local Schools and charities such as AMAZE and the Sussex wide YMCA to this call from the Government and its funding offer. These MPs could also work with their local foodbanks and other charities including Sussex FareShare to improve food matters for Sussex residents facing poverty.