If the past six months have taught us anything, it’s that a family’s circumstances can change overnight, without warning. A family getting by just fine before COVID-19 might have experienced a job loss or a family illness and all of sudden struggle to purchase the basic essentials and to put food on the table.
This strikes a personal chord with me. When I was a child, my family went through something similar. After my father passed away, when I was just 11 years old, our family circumstances changed and we struggled.
Now that I am an MP, I want to do whatever I can to make sure every child has the same chance. 19 years after I was at school, it is devastating that in my own constituency, Bury South, and across the country, too many children are still held back by hunger.
School breakfasts are a proven way to tackle classroom hunger and boost educational attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Education Endowment Foundation has shown that children in schools with a universal free school breakfast provision make two months additional academic progress, compared to children in schools without such provision. This is more important than ever as we know the educational attainment gap has widened as a result of COVID-19 school closures.
That is why I and MPs across the House are supportive of the School Breakfast Bill, which will be presented to Parliament on 13 October. The Bill seeks to provide disadvantaged primary and secondary schools with the support required to provide a free and healthy school breakfast to children. In my own constituency, 19 schools and nearly 6,000 pupils would benefit. In simple terms, that’s 6,000 children whose lives could be transformed.
This Bill builds and scales up the Government’s existing and very successful National School Breakfast Programme, which is implemented by Magic Breakfast and Family Action. This programme has demonstrated the benefits of school breakfast provision, with teachers reporting improvements in children’s energy, concentration, behaviour, punctuality and attendance. But the funding is set to run out in March 2021 – mid way through this school year and when we may well still be in the thick of the pandemic.
Interventions like school breakfast provision must be front and centre as we look towards ‘building back better’. I was proud to join the Levelling Up Taskforce last month to hold the Government to account on its promise to address regional inequalities. That starts with interventions like this one, that ensure that children have the opportunity to get a good education and ultimately access highly paid work, regardless of their family circumstances.
I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been able to start the school day with a full stomach and I will use my platform as an MP to ensure every child has the same opportunities I did. I’d urge the Government to consider supporting the School Breakfast Bill in order to ensure that no child starts the day too hungry to learn.