Notices of Motion
Proposed by Cllr. Flynn; seconded by Cllr. Joy
Free school meals for all primary school children in England
4 million children are living in poverty in the UK.
For many children, living in poverty can mean going to school hungry, sleeping in a cold bedroom, and feeling worried and anxious about the stress at home. Poverty affects young people long into their future too - children growing up in poverty have significantlyworse chances in life, poorer health and fewer opportunities.
Many professional education and health organisations, as well as individuals, are calling on the Government to extend Free School Meal provision including, but not limited to:
· Barnardo’s - campaigning for Free School Meals for all Primary school children in England (they have a petition here https://tinyurl.com/5dyp5hzv ) and have published a Cost of Living report which can be found here https://www.barnardos.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/impact-of-cost-of-living
· The National Education Union - also calling for Free School Meals for all Primary School Children (https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/food-insecurity-new-food-foundation-data)
· The Food Foundation – advocating for an extension to the existing provision. They have an evidence pack that can be found here https://foodfoundation.org.uk/publication/superpowers-free-school-meals-evidence-pack which cites research indicating that for every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned, through social, health and educational benefits, resulting in £8.9bn in core benefits.
This Council notes:
- Free school meals for all primary-aged children would mean that every child would get at least one nutritious, healthy, filling meal a day, whatever they are facing at home.
- Around 800,000 children living in poverty are currently missing out on free school meals. Children in England are only eligible for free school meals if their families have net earnings below £7,400 per year.
- Free School Meals would relieve stress, anxiety for children at mealtimes, and relieve pressure for families living in poverty.
- Free school meals have been proven to reduce obesity and also to improve attendance and attainment rates at school.
- Scotland, Wales and some boroughs in London have already committed to extending universal free school meals to all primary children and are exploring options for expansion into secondary schools as well.
This Council calls on Cheltenham’s Member of Parliament, Alex Chalk, to support the Free School Meals for All Bill, which will be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday 13 December.
In proposing the motion, Cllr. Flynn explained that it came about following a meeting of the Scrutiny Task Group on Tackling Multiple Deprivation which had focused on education, and heard from a local school where, despite over 90% of pupils living in poverty, only 55% were eligible for free school meals. Following some research on this, she spoke to Barnardo’s about their free school meals campaign and liaised with the National Education Union. After submitting the motion, she was advised by the NEU that a bill on free school meals had been tabled in parliament for the day after this meeting (13th December), and adjusted the motion accordingly to request that the council call on Alex Chalk MP directly to support the bill. Both she and Cllr. Joy had also emailed him directly. If Council agreed this motion, he would be very aware of it tomorrow. Members were being asked to support something very straightforward and urgent, supported by Barnardo’s, the NEU and the Food Foundation. The motion also expressed five concise reasons why this needed to happen.
In seconding the motion, Cllr. Joy described it as self-explanatory and urgent. There was a moral imperative to act ahead of the parliamentary debate tomorrow, and free school meals were a vital topic linked to other issues like youth engagement and individual autonomy. She was proud of everything that had been achieved through NCLB, and this looked to build on that and set an agenda for positive change.
Amendment to Motion B
Proposed by Cllr. Clucas; seconded by Cllr. Baker
Ask the Government to provide free school meals for all primary school children in England
4 million children are living in poverty in the UK.
For many children, living in poverty can mean going to school hungry, sleeping in a cold bedroom, and feeling worried and anxious about the stress at home. Poverty affects young people long into their future too - children growing up in poverty have significantly worse chances in life, poorer health and fewer opportunities.
Council acknowledges that providing food security for families across Cheltenham requires a wrap-around community support network and dedicated support to tackle associated forms of poverty such as fuel and after-cost-of-housing deprivation. Primary schools providing free school meals to all students could play a vital role in this network.
Council recognizes the tireless work of community organizations in Cheltenham that already work to close the gaps and provide food to those most in need, including local food banks, youth groups, and places of worship.
This vital work should not be necessary - it is both a credit to our community and a consequence of our failing government.
Council instituted No Child Left Behind to fight the impact of poverty in Cheltenham, where we know from research done both in Cheltenham and by the End Poverty Alliance, that almost 5000 children in our town live in poverty.
NCLB, a unique alliance of Cheltenham residents and local organizations, has helped thousands of our fellow citizens who would otherwise suffer greatly from the effects of poverty.
Part of the work of No Child Left Behind is supporting the HAF (The Holiday Activity and Food programme), for those in reception to Year 11 who receive benefits-related free school meals. This scheme provides enriching activities and nutritious food to children across Cheltenham - but could and should go further to reach more children in need who aren't included in the current benefits programme.
The time has come for the government to recognise that denying children and families proper support results in children's educational attainment suffering, potential employment opportunities suffering, and, consequently, our economy suffering.
As such, Council resolves to:
- Commit to continued support for No Child Left Behind and the HAF scheme in Cheltenham.
- Back Layla Moran’s campaign for all schools to guarantee food vouchers to families when schools are closed for holidays - which can be exchanged at a range of supermarkets to ensure inclusivity.
- Instruct the Leader of the Council to write to the two MPs representing Cheltenham, asking them to VOTE FOR FREE SCHOOL MEALS BILL in Parliament.
- Engage with Gloucestershire County
Council, as the local authority responsible for the
provision of free school meals, and advocate for:
- The offer of free school meals to be extended to all primary school students.
- School holiday food voucher schemes - to be better promoted, more accessible, and reach more families across town.
- The HAF scheme to be opened up to more children and families who need it.
In proposing the amendment, Cllr. Clucas acknowledged an interest as a member of a teaching union and as the Vice-Chair of a multi-academy trust. Her amendment sought to highlight the number of people living in poverty in Cheltenham, which might seem from the outside to be a prosperous town. Behind that, however, there was a real and significant problem that they could not tackle alone. The government needed to provide free school meals to every single child in the country without conditions or stigma. This would give children a good start to the day and ensure they did not feel hungry at school. Over time, they would see a major effect on their ability to learn and on their wider opportunities. It was estimated that it would cost £365m to provide free school meals for all primary schools each year, or £1bn a year for all schools. In comparison, the government had lost £4.9bn to fraud during Covid. This would be a transformational policy to make lives better, and there were more children than ever in need of support. She was looking forward to hearing members’ suggestions about how they could achieve this and do things a better way.
In seconding the amendment, Cllr. Baker thanked Cllr. Flynn for proposing the original motion, and Cllr. Clucas for her amendment. 5,000 children were growing up in poverty, which was scandalous in a town like Cheltenham. As Cllr. Flynn had made clear, it was an urgent issue, with the bill being presented to parliament tomorrow, so they needed to email the MP rather than writing to him. He highlighted a clear provision gap in the current system, noting that at Naunton Park Primary School, only 17 of 600 pupils were eligible for free school meals because the threshold for it was far too low. He had spoken to teachers about the impact of free school meals, and they had reported a noticeable drop-off point in concentration among those who hadn’t eaten. The seventh-richest country in the world should be providing free school meals as a basic minimum. He hoped that there would be cross-party support for the amended motion.
The Mayor asked whether the original motion’s proposer accepted the amendments. Cllr. Flynn confirmed that she did not. She found it to be a different motion that should have been brought to Council in its own right rather than trying to supersede hers.
The Mayor moved into debate on the amendment, where Members made the following points:
· The amendment expanded on the initial motion rather than seeking to overrule it.
· Children coming into school hungry had severe consequences on both their learning and their health.
· It was a political choice on the part of the government not to solve this crisis, and a consequence of 12 years of Conservative government.
· A recent county council-published booklet about access to food and activities circulated to schools included a six page long list of food banks. The vital and tireless work of these organisations should not be necessary, and food banks should be a last resort.
· Free school meals were an investment in equality and in children’s futures.
· The amendment didn’t go far enough, considering that in Sweden, for example, three school lunches had been provided to all students aged up to 19 for decades. The UK was richer than Sweden and should be following their model.
· As part of Cheltenham borough was in another constituency, there was another MP who was worth contacting.
· During the pandemic, the government voted down a Labour motion to provide free school meals to all children. The MPs voting against it included those for Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Forest of Dean and Cheltenham, while and the other two in the county did not vote. The Leader’s emails would likely fall on deaf ears.
· The preamble to the current Gloucestershire-wide food allocation strategy noted that 16 government departments had an interest in food banks, so it was no wonder nothing was happening to change the situation. The council needed to identify the parts of the system it could influence.
· The council was clearly willing to go above and beyond its statutory obligations. Creative ideas were needed to set the agenda and ensure this situation never happened again.
· The amendment stated that ‘the time had come’ for this move, but really it had always been needed.
· It was hard to underestimate the scale of the problem, when they were seeing police officers and nurses relying on food banks.
· It would prove a united front if all Members voted for the amended motion.
The Mayor moved to the vote on whether to accept the amendment:
The amendment thus became the substantive motion.
The Mayor moved to the debate on the substantive motion, where Members made the following points:
· Motions brought by the Green group were continually hijacked by the Liberal Democrat group. The newly agreed amendment disregarded the work of Barnardo’s, Food Foundation and National Education Union to solve this issue, and the points that replaced them could have been more suitably expressed in the member debate, while the reference to the government was not needed.
· Many of the new resolutions were already being done.
· Child poverty should not be treated as a political football, and political grandstanding would not feed any children.
· It would be easier to sort disputes like this out further in advance of the meeting.
· Cross-party support for the amended motion would send a powerful message.
· The issue under discussion concerned the future of every child in the country.
· A full stomach was a basic right, and it made children more content, able to learn and better behaved.
The Leader added as a point of information that she had the email ready in her inbox, and would sent it as soon as the motion was agreed.
One Member asked for a recorded vote, which the requisite number of Members supported.
The Mayor moved to the vote on the amended motion.
FOR (33): Cllrs. Andrews, Atherstone, Baker, Bamford, Bassett-Smith, Beale, Boyes, Britter, Chelin, Clark, Clucas, Collins, Dobie, Fisher, Flynn, Harvey, Hay, Holliday, Horwood, Jeffries, Joy, Lewis, McCloskey, Payne, Pineger, Sankey, Seacome, Tailford, Tooke, Wheeler, Wilkinson, Williams, Willingham
ABSTAIN (4): Cllrs. Babbage, Fifield, Harman, Nelson
Proposed by Cllr. Wilkinson; seconded by Cllr. Boyes
Voter ID proposals
Council notes with concern:
The Voter ID proposals, which are due to be enacted nationwide from 2023 and would apply to all elections in Cheltenham.
That people will be disenfranchised by this legislation, particularly those from certain groups, including less well-off families and younger people.
The bias in the proposals towards accepting forms of ID commonly held by certain demographic groups and against accepting forms of ID commonly held by others.
The lack of funding for councils administering elections to engage in awareness campaigns to prevent disenfranchisement of voters.
That the Gould Principle recommends electoral legislation should not be introduced within six months before a scheduled poll, but that unless an unscheduled election were to take place this would not apply to any election in Cheltenham.
That while the government is reportedly offering access to a Voter ID card to the 3.5million people without any form of photo identification, this still represents a barrier to voting for many.
Council further notes:
That in 2019, the most recent general election year, there was only one conviction for electoral fraud due to impersonation.
That the reported cost of administering Voter ID will be in the region of £180million, with some extra costs borne by local authorities already under significant financial pressure.
Council resolves to:
Ask the Chief Executive and/or Returning Officer to report to full council in March 2023 on this authority’s proposals to minimise the risk of disenfranchisement.
Write to the appropriate Secretary of State and Cheltenham’s Members of Parliament to:
- express concern about the upcoming changes with a suggestion they are scrapped
- request that if Cheltenham’s MPs are not minded to support the scrapping of the changes, propose an expansion of the range of forms of ID that will be accepted and request extra funding for local awareness campaigns
In proposing the motion, Cllr. Wilkinson described the voter ID proposals in the forthcoming Elections Act as like using a Boeing 747 to go to the shop for a pint of milk, such was the disparity between the scale of the problem and the cost of the solution. You were more likely to meet a lottery winner than someone convicted for voter impersonation in the UK. The Act would not make votes count any more equally, contribute to democracy or make it easier to vote. It was a solution way out of alignment with the scale of the problem, especially considering the cost of living emergency and failure to deliver a basic level of services at the moment. Even if one took a generous view of the government’s intentions, it would not deliver value for money. It also offered fewer options for younger people than older people, meaning that young people were more in danger of losing their rights. It seemed as though the government were trying to prevent certain groups of people voting.
He summarised that the proposals needed to be dropped before people were disenfranchised at the next election, or at least that the current rules on accepted ID be extended. The council would step in to do what it could to prevent disenfranchisement, but Cheltenham’s MPs needed to act now to prevent basic rights being infringed.
In seconding the motion, Cllr. Boyes highlighted the impact of the Elections Act on the democratic process. Councillors sat in the Chamber representing all citizens, some of whom would be prevented from voting by the Act, and protecting their access to voting was essential. Forcing voters to bring ID made it harder for people to vote, since the more disadvantaged someone was, the less likely they were to have ID. She highlighted that under the proposed new rules, someone could vote with a 60+ Oyster Card but not an 18+ one, and she had real concerns that it would disenfranchise young people. The UK did not issue citizens with national identity cards, and there were no free or low-cost options. Young and disadvantaged people would effectively be locked out of the polling station. Even senior Tories had described it as an illiberal solution. The Act was estimated to cost £180m in the first decade, even though widespread voter impersonation was not an issue in the UK, with only 33 cases investigated by police after the 2019 election.
There being no amendments proposed, the Mayor moved to the debate, where Members made the following points:
· Only four of the more than thirty members states of the OECD did not require voter ID, and one of those four was trialling it at the moment. Like it or not, we lived in an age where people had to prove their identity.
· The Elections Act was a disgusting piece of legislation which would fundamentally dilute democracy. It was bad legislation by design, putting barriers in front of voters.
· Through an FOI request, the Electoral Commission’s warnings about the Act had been made public, making it clear that the 2023 election was being treated as an opportunity to learn rather than a vital exercise in democracy. Poorer people and younger people would have to jump through hoops to access a basic right, and it would be a nightmarish situation for our democracy.
· When speaking to constituents on the doorstep, there was a clear sense of disenfranchisement, particularly amongst young people and those who were struggling to get by. The government should be trying to alleviate people’s concerns that their vote didn’t count rather than making it worse.
· The proposed list of accepted IDs included an OAP bus pass but not a young person’s railcard or student ID. ID was expensive, and this went against the principle of being able to vote as easily as possible. The Act seemed like voter suppression, straight out of the Republican playbook in the USA.
· It would be illiberal to require members of the public to carry their ID at all times, and getting them to pay out of pocket just to vote was ridiculous. Most forms of ID cost more than £20, which was equivalent to a week’s worth of food. The policy was either incompetent or a very deliberate attempt to disenfranchise large groups of people. The UK could not be allowed to become a ‘papers, please’ society.
· UK elections were incredibly safe. You could go to a polling station that morning and see that the boxes are empty, watch them be sealed after polls close, and then go to the count and watch the votes being counted in front of you. There was no need for this Act unless you wanted to disenfranchise people. It was clear that less affluent people, who the government know wouldn’t vote for them, would lose out. This was not characteristic of a free and liberal society.
· These plans would reduce turnout at local elections, which was already as low as 24% in some cases, and there would be a point where the democratic mandate of those elected would be questioned.
· When travelling around Europe with a EU ID card, nobody demanded to see it, and it helped improve access to healthcare. Similar ID measures were in place in Italy, Austria and even Northern Ireland, and there had been no significant issues with it.
· Those who were struggling to get by would be restricted in terms of democratic participation.
· These proposals were part of a general shift to the right in our society, alongside restricting protest and strikes. The bill was rushed and would put barriers in front of young people and other groups.
Cllr. Wilkinson thanked Members for their contributions and again highlighted the key issues of democracy and political engagement.
The Mayor moved to the vote, where the motion was approved.