On Monday afternoon a modest number of MPs in Parliament discussed the Marcus Rashford Petition. Very sadly it did not get as far as it could have done. They spent a total of 87 minutes discussing the subject which is a very challenging issue and requires a much longer discussion. As I wrote on Thursday that length of time represented 20% of the time that Parliament spent listening to Dominic Cummings. While it is clearly important to carry out a proper and credible review of how the Government has dealt with COVID, that needs to be done in a much more effective way. It needs to lead to changes which may well include the call for Ministers to be sacked, but that needs to be dealt with properly. However the extent to which families are facing major challenges is something that needs resolving now and in a very effective way. What I did not appreciate when I wrote my piece here about the two cases on Thursday morning was that a second slightly shorter debate took place on Wednesday afternoon on the Petition issues. It was for 75 minutes so we are now at 39% of the time that Parliament has spent listening to Dominic. Given that Marcus Ashford and 1.1m people endorsed the petition, this would surely be a justification for far more time to be spent than happened in the whole of last week. As it happened, the debate on Monday involved 10 Labour MPs 5 Conservative MPs and 3 SNP MPs plus the Conservative Minister (Vicky Ford).
The debate on Wednesday included the same Minister and two of the same Labour MPs and one of the same SNP MPs that participated on the Monday debate. In addition there were three more Labour MPs and one more SNP MP and an Independent MP who is currently not part of the Labour Party. Sadly there were no other MPs involved. However at the end of the session several strong calls were made. The response to the majority of the debate was made by Vicky Ford and during her statement she indicated that she is very proud about what the Government has done so far. However it clearly ignored what is actually needed. Two MPs raised questions during her debate and sadly she ignored both of them. The first came from Siobhain McDonagh who is the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden and she stated
Was Marcus Rashford making it up, then? Did he have nothing to do? Was it just something in his own paranoid state of mind?
And of course he did not make it up and neither did the 1.1m people who signed the petition but sadly Vicky Ford ignored Siobhain. Then a few minutes later Catherine West, the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green stated
Can the Minister tell us whether the UK has the most expensive or the second most expensive childcare in Europe?
And again Vicky Ford ignored her. As it happened it was Catherine West who was one of the people who attended both sessions and she ended the piece with a statement that included these following proposals.
A number of actions desperately need to be taken.
No.1 is to pay as many people as possible not the minimum wage, but the real living wage, which is £9.50 in most of the UK and £10.85 in London. By the way, when I was a borough leader, we introduced the London living wage to all staff who worked in kitchens in schools at the same time as we introduced universal free school meals for every single primary school child. It was a great day when we did that.
No. 2 is that the £20 universal credit uplift must be made permanent, and we must urgently review the two- child limit. Let us not forget that over 50% of people using Trussell Trust food banks had never used one with children before, and that 1 million eight to 17-year-olds visited a food bank in December and January. We desperately need to review child benefit levels, which have been frozen, and we need to look at more help for families with fuel bills, water bills and council tax.
I welcome the breathing space initiative that the Minister mentioned, but I do not think it is well known. I do not think there has been enough getting the message out, because far too many people are still in debt for certain financial products that are “buy now, pay later”, which very quickly become unaffordable.
People desperately need more help with housing costs, and we must look urgently at the privately rented sector, which tends to be very low quality. These days, it has lower-quality housing stock than in social housing, and people pay over a third of their income on expensive rent payments and childcare costs.
She then finishes off by saying the following
We have had a good debate, and I thank all Members for being involved. I hope that the Minister will take some of the recommendations from the debate into Government policy, so that we can aspire to have a society where the 23 billionaires who were added to the rich list do not get to eat all the food, but where our poorer children get to have a nutritional and fully based diet as well.
Let us hope that in due course this theme will be opened many more times until a solution is achieved, hopefully in a very short time.