As Labour’s Metro Mayoral Candidate in the Tees Valley, fighting child poverty is personal to me. A few weeks back I was at a local food project with Keir Starmer, he had visited the Tees Valley to speak to voters, and show support for my campaign for Tees Valley Mayor. I can’t forget the words of one young boy we met at the project who said, they come to the project because they didn’t have any food. He was about 6 or 7 years old. For nearly half my life I have been fighting to lift children out of poverty. At 24 I started a charity for women and young people in Teesside, called A Way Out. A drugs intervention project, quickly became a poverty fighting charity because when it came to it; that was actually the big problem. Food poverty, poverty of opportunity or aspiration, turning to drugs because there was no hope or no help. And often, some of the most important interventions we provided was a meal; just a meal. Proving food so children wouldn’t go home hungry. We would have children come in to our drop in’s who were having 10p crisps for their dinner. Food matters.
So to hear the news yesterday, that the Conservatives voted against extending free meals in the holidays broke my heart and caused an anger that I can’t shake. We know there is always politics at play and as an opposition we hold the government to account on many things; but there are other times when politics shouldn’t come into things and last night was one of them. I was appalled that every Conservative in the Tees Valley (We now have four) voted against extending free school meals. In the Tees Valley we have some of the worst child poverty rates in the country, Middlesbrough has the highest with 41% of our children in poverty. It is a national scandal and at a time when these families need the support the most, the Tories chose to turn their backs.
Under my leadership of the Tees Valley we are going to turn around the lives of our children, I will campaign night and day to see a fairer welfare system, I will work with businesses to have more family flexible policies; Invest in parts of our economy that will lead to better pay and better jobs, aimed at those who have fallen behind in the labour market and particularly women and families and I will seek to develop community and family learning and support hubs that allow everyone to feel like they can find help and support. I believe by working collectively with our communities we can make a better future for everyone.