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House of Lords life-changing decision as amendments to Schools Bill struck down.

Primary school children sitting around a teacher

A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Schools Bill was defeated by Conservative peers yesterday in the House of Lords. Somewhat surprisingly, Labour peers abstained from the amendment which resulted in a certain defeat yesterday evening.

The amendments proposed by the Liberal Democrats aimed to extend additional support for children in households on Universal Credit. If the amendment had passed, this would have ensured that the Schools Bill would provide free school lunches to all pupils in households receiving Universal Credit. Liberal Democrat Lord Storey advocated for this amendment as he sought to start the tangible work needed to overcome the challenges presented by the cost-of-living crisis, namely for some of society’s most vulnerable members: children.

House of Lords & The Cost of Living Crisis – A tale of two cities

As the cost-of-living crisis looms over most households in the UK, poorer households are particularly feeling the increasing fiscal pinch due to experiencing higher forms of inflation. A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted that the poorest households faced a 10.9% inflation rate in April while the wealthiest households incurred a rate of 7.9%.

Crucially, areas that have not had consistent funding measures, will inevitably experience a sharper rise in fuel poverty, as has been highlighted by the Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for “left behind neighborhoods”. Following this, and as Lord Storey sought to achieve in amendment 58 of the school Bill, the government must “ensure funding is sufficient” at the very least.

Yet, despite the clear and emotive assertions made by Lord Storey, the amendment was disappointingly voted down 108-51. It is apparent that party lines were drawn as Conservative peers dissented to the amendment proposed by the Lib Dems. Yet, another unexpected outcome was seen on the House floor. Labour peers abstained from the vote, which resulted in an almost certain defeat. Why did the party, who’s citadels were built of the ethos of ‘for the many not the few’ and ‘stronger together’; decide to abstain in such a crucial decision?

Political pundits across the spectrum have claimed that Labour peers were whipped to abstain from the vote, with only 3 Labour peers defying the party whip. In the face of this shocking outcome, Baroness Chapman gave a speech which affirmed that the Labour Party would support such a measure if this was proposed by the government. Despite the oddity of this statement given Baroness Chapman’s abstaining from the vote, Baroness Chapman continued to use the party line statements that highlighted the “significant work” that Labour were committed to reduce child poverty.

Labour Party in question

A party whose central ethos is cemented around workers has taken a disappointing and unforeseen move to abstain from an amendment that would seek to upload one of its central messages to the British populace. Labour activist George Aylett blasted the move on Twitter by stating that “A change in leadership is long overdue”. Other commentators on the left questioned a Starmer led Labour Party’s commitments to the welfare state and its original commitments to build a British vision centered on having equitable living standards for all.

Final Thought

While we continue to engage in political gamesmanship across the political spectrum and as we continue to question ideological commitments within the electoral parties. The most vulnerable groups within Britain continue to bear the brunt of the fiscal damages incurred by this crisis. Local organizations have commented on the uptick of children sharing lunches, going without eating and at times physically shaking in classes due to the length of time they have gone without meals.

Such an amendment, as Lord Storey powerfully asserted, would have begun to lay the foundations to ensuring that children can continue to have a suitable education without the pangs of hunger. We, the citizenry must now continue to call for representatives in government to do more to end child poverty and other harms incurred by the cost-of-living crisis. In the words of Lord Storey, if we fail to do this, we must ask ourselves “What sought of society have we become?”

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