This week I was delighted to welcome my friend and former DWP colleague Will Quince MP to Swindon. Will is now the Minister responsible for Children and Families at the Department for Education so I was keen to invite him to Swindon to see some of the fantastic organisations that look after local youngsters.
Our first stop was Playsteps Nursery by Faringdon Park where local councillor Jo Morris is the Manager. We had a great time meeting with staff and the children. There is no doubt that nurseries play a vital role in the early stages of a child’s life – arguably the most important as they develop both physically and mentally. We had a good discussion on what more can be done to improve support to nurseries whilst also balancing the need to make childcare as available and affordable to as many parents as possible. It was also an opportunity to thank the staff who have worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic – there is not enough praise that can be heaped on our nursery workers who never fail to look after the children they are responsible for. They really are heroes.
Secondly it was a visit to Oakhurst Primary School’s after school club which is run by teacher Mark Draycott – who runs the school holiday Draycott’s Sports Camp. We were there to both see the after school provision and to discuss the successful Government’s Holiday Activities & Food Programme, which sees places at school holiday clubs provided to children eligible for Free School Meals. This means that any child can take part regardless of any financial constraints. The places are fully funded for those on Free School Meals and I know that this is something that will also run throughout the Christmas holidays – ensuring that disadvantaged children are offered nutritious food and enriching activities.
It was great to see some of the Government’s support packages targeted to disadvantaged pupils in action locally, and Mark does a fantastic job of making sure everybody feels included. I know that the Minister was very impressed.
Building on this support, the Government has this week announced a new £500 million Household Support fund, which will help provide additional support to vulnerable households this winter. Millions of the most vulnerable people will benefit from this funding, which will be given to local authorities who are best placed to ensure that it reaches the people who need it most. The new Household Support Fund will provide targeted support to people who are struggling financially, covering essentials – such as bills, food and clothing.
The Government has also doubled free childcare for eligible working parents, worth up to £5,000 per child every year; and increased the value of Healthy Start vouchers in April by over a third, helping disadvantaged women, who are pregnant or have children under four, to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, boosting the long-term health of their children.
Finally, for the political parties it is currently conference season – an opportunity where parties and their members gather to discuss and form new policies. Regardless of views, this is an important part of the democratic process and it is right that the media scrutinises what goes on. What we learnt this week is that it is ok for people to have different opinions and belong to different parties – but it is never ok to call people ‘scum.’ The public deserves better from its elected representatives.