Children are crying at school and stealing from breakfast clubs due to hunger, an MP has told the Commons.
Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, is calling for free school meals for all primary school children, and she read out heartbreaking accounts that highlighted how bleak the situation has become for some.
She said one teacher in Leeds told her a seven-year-old pupil burst into tears out of fear of going hungry at school that day, while a Year 3 pupil was caught stealing bagels from a breakfast club.
Sultana said: "Soaring food prices and rocketing energy bills have pushed people to the brink, children are going to bed hungry at home and they are forced to learn on hungry stomachs at school.
"My bill is a response to this injustice, it's a solution to children crying because they haven't had a decent meal and an answer to kids feeling like they have to steal food just to get by.
"My bill would extend free school meals to all primary school children, guaranteeing that they get a good healthy meal each day."
She argued that current means testing 'separates children, putting labels on them and provoking stigma'.
"That's what pupils who receive free school meals tell me, they felt embarrassed and ashamed, they would be mocked and bullied," she said.
"Free school meals for all means that all children eat together and learn together and it avoids the trap of second rate provision for the poorest, because too often service just for the poor end up being poor services."
Sultana said countries from India to Sweden had adopted the policy, which is 'why the Scottish Government implemented the policy and why the Welsh Government is doing likewise too'.
She also rubbished counterarguments that suggest the bill would be unaffordable, reasoning that there is 'immense wealth in this country' to fund the policy.
She said: "Private schools currently receive a tax break worth £1.7 billon a year, nearly double the cost of this policy.
"So the question I put to the House is, do we want to protect tax breaks for elite private schools, or do we want to feed hungry kids?
"This Conservative Government is making a choice, they are choosing to protect tax breaks for the wealthy, while denying food to hungry kids."
Sultana's Free School Meals (Primary Schools) Bill was listed for a second reading on 20 January next year, but it is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.
A Department of Education spokesperson told Tyla: "We understand the pressures many households are under, that is why we are supporting more children and young people than ever before.
"Over a third of pupils in England currently receive free school meals in education settings and we have just announced a further investment in the National School Breakfast Programme, extending the programme for another year backed by up to £30 million.
"We have acted on soaring energy costs through the Energy Price Guarantee, saving a typical household over £900 this winter.
"The Energy Bills Support Scheme is also providing a £400 discount to millions of households this winter, further support is available for the most vulnerable who will receive £1,200 each this year."
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