A debate in the House of Commons today will look at the quality of free school meals and access to online education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The debate follows several high profile scandals stemming from the government’s decisions about free school meals and access to education.

The government initially voted not to allow the free school meals scheme to continue during lockdown, but massive public pressure and a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to reinstate the support to families below the poverty line, forced the government to U-turn on the policy.

The government then decided to contract a company which provided meals so poor, images of the food parcels were shared on social media and widely condemned around the world. That incident led to the government having to review the food packages being offered.

Schools around the country were initially kept open during the pandemic in a bid not to disrupt children’s education, but a growing understanding about children’s roles in spreading the virus, and most importantly the realisation that children could also suffer adverse and life-threatening symptoms once infected, forced the government to change its guidance.

This led to children being asked to stay at home, with an exception made for children of key workers, a decision which remains of concern to this day as infections continue to rise in school venues.

As part of the stay at home initiative, the government promised to ensure that every child had a computer and access to the internet, so they could learn at home. The roll out, though, has been slow, and many children are still without computers and WiFi access prompting concern that a generation of children could be ‘left behind’.

Available data suggests that around 702,200 devices were delivered or dispatched since the start of the scheme in May. Of these devices, around 139,800 were delivered or dispatched since 4 January 2021.

Ahead of the debate, the very brilliant House of Commons library has produced an incredibly helpful information pack, which can be accessed here.

For an explanation of Opposition Days, and how they work, this Parliament web page offers a good breakdown of the process.

Today’s debate is likely to take place in the evening, though the timing for Opposition Day Debates can vary and change with little to no notice. Proceedings in the Commons start today at 2.30pm. The debate itself will take place after Oral Questions, Ministerial Statements and an Opposition Day Debate on Universal Credit.

The debate can be watched on Parliament TV.

Many thanks to the House of Commons Library for the schedule and link to the TV channel, which they kindly shared with us on Twitter.

Image by @RoadsideMum