This week, the government showed its true colours in its contemptuous treatment of Greater Manchester. After days of negotiations with Mayor Andy Burnham and council leaders, a package of support to help businesses and jobs as Greater Manchester was placed into the highest tier 3 covid risk category, was on the brink of being agreed. And then, for the sake of just £5 million, the government walked away. The decision to place us in tier 3 was confirmed, but the financial support was not in place.
This vicious decision threatens to take us back to the bad old days of the 1980s, when the Thatcher government left the north to bear the pain of Tory cuts. It’s created a huge sense of anger and despair, and fear of what the future holds.
Later, it turned out some financial support would be available after all – but less than is needed, and each individual council will have to go to the government with a begging bowl. Meanwhile, business owners are uncertain and anxious, families are worried about how they’ll pay the bills – and to add insult to injury, on Wednesday, Tory MPs voted down a Labour motion which would have provided free school meals to eligible children during the halfterm, Christmas and Easter holidays.
The government’s callous and insulting treatment of people here will not be forgotten. Not least because our local football hero, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who has campaigned hard to increase access to free school meals, won’t let them get away with it. I was very proud to be able to open the debate on free school meals, and to pay tribute to his work. And I’m disgusted by some of the statements we heard from Tory MPs this week. One said children had been going hungry for years, as if that made it acceptable. Others wheeled out the tired old argument that parents should take responsibility for their own children (for sure – but what are they to do if they lose their job, and can’t find another because of the pandemic), or that if parents were given vouchers, they’d fritter them away on booze and fags (the research evidence shows the opposite – when low-income parents receive extra support, they spend it on household bills, and buying things for their kids).
We lost the vote on Wednesday night, but this campaign hasn’t gone away. Labour will continue to work with campaigners until the government does the right thing, and no child goes to bed hungry.