Tom backs the “No Free Lunch?” campaign to support Teesside’s Further Education learners

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has given his support to the Association of College’s (AoC) “No Free Lunch?” campaign.  The campaign, which is backed by the National Union of Students, the University and College Union and UNISON, seeks to secure ‘free school meals’ for disadvantaged 16-18 learners in sixth form and general Further Education colleges.

Tom said:

“I am delighted to be able to support the ‘No Free Lunch?’ campaign, alongside my fellow Labour MP Nic Dakin, who will be introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 6 November in Parliament to extend Free School Meals to 16-18 learners in sixth form and general Further Education colleges.

I know how much students at colleges like Prior Pursglove, Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough are struggling financially, especially now that the Tories and Lib Dems have abolished Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which the previous government introduced to support disadvantaged 16-18 learners.

It is simply unfair that 16, 17 and 18 year olds in Further Education now find themselves having real problems just paying unavoidable costs associated with their study, like transport and meals, especially when we are aiming for 100% participation in education and training for 16-18 year olds.

Whilst I welcome the fact that MPs from across the political spectrum are starting to get behind this campaign, I would have hoped that my Tory and Liberal Democrat colleagues would have considered the consequences – like students being unable to afford their lunches – prior to voting to scrap EMA.”

Tom added:

“I believe that the Government has a duty to support 16-18 learners.  I will therefore be urging Tory and Lib Dem Education Ministers in Parliament to extend free school meals beyond school sixth forms to 16-18 learners in sixth form and FE colleges.

However, it is important that any potential extension of the free school meal scheme would not have an adverse effect on local businesses like those in Guisborough that depend on student trade.  As such, if the scheme were to be expanded, I would be asking the Government to either give students cash or vouchers, so that they can continue to give trade to small businesses, as opposed to just college canteens run by multi-national companies like Sodexo and Carillion.  I will also urge the Government to consider what steps they can take to support disadvantaged Apprentices with meals and transport, since many are only paid £2.65 per hour.”

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