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Protestors lay empty plates outside local MPs’ offices following school meals vote

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY has staged an ‘Empty Plates’ protest outside the constituency offices of both Stephen Crabb MP and Simon Hart MP following what The People’s Assembly describes as “The scandal of their free School Meals votes”

Due to current Covid restrictions, the protests were carried out by just two protestors at each location “who lived locally enough to each office to enable them to carry out the demonstrations whilst on their daily exercise round or while out purchasing essential items”, organisers said

The messages written on each of the plates were all sent in by local ‘would be’ protestors following a call out on social media.

Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly told us: “We have had a huge amount of support for this demonstration and under normal circumstances would have called for a conventional style demo on the streets to go along with the ’empty plates’ stunt. With the level of support that we have received and the visceral anger that is out there following Crabb and Hart’s votes, we know that this would have been very well attended, however, these are not normal times so this called for a more creative Covid-appropriate response.

The protest comes following a flurry of announcements from pubs and restaurants around Britain stating that they have barred Tory MP’s following their votes against protecting free school meals during School holidays, including two pubs in Fishguard who have now banned both Crabb and Hart for life.

A spokesperson at PPA told us: “The Tories, as ever, are determined to make the poorest and most vulnerable in society pay for the crisis. This latest move shows the utter contempt that the Conservatives hold for those people who work all hours to keep our society afloat in times of crisis. The vast majority of those who claim free school meals are those families who are working yet on low incomes, this is an issue of poverty pay, not benefits.”

“Simon Hart voted against the amendment which would have protected free School meals during holidays for children in England.”
Stephen Crabb, who was himself brought up on benefits, and who has almost never voted against his Party whip and certainly never voted against austerity ‘abstained’ from the vote -he says “in protest”, however, a true ‘protest vote’ would have been to vote against the government not just sit on the fence and pretend to have a backbone. In our eyes, Crabb’s abstention is actually a worse indictment of his character as it shows he will not stand by any political convictions he claims to hold!”

“Fortunately for the children living in Crabb and Hart’s own constituencies, the Labour led Welsh Government has ensured that children will get free School meals over the holidays.”

“Empty plates protests have taken place outside the offices of Tory MPs all around Britain and we expect to see many more, there is also a growing movement of Pub owners barring Tory MP’s from their premises’ which we think sends a clear message of disapproval to the Government and a clear warning to the MP’s who voted to keep children hungry over the School holidays.”

Máiréad Canavan, NEU National Executive member for Wales, added: “As an educator, I know first-hand how poverty limits the life chances of children and significantly affects their educational experience and outcomes in school. As coronavirus continues to impact families across the UK, It is reprehensible for any MP to vote against or abstain from a vote to allow children in need to access free school meals.

Empty plates outside Stephen Crabb’s office in Haverfordwest on Saturday (Oct 31)

Marc Tierney – former Labour Party parliamentary candidate for CWSP said: “Time and again both local MPs have voted to cut the help available to those who need it most. Consistently, Simon Hart fails to recognise the extent of poverty in our communities. He has put his Party and now his government job ahead of those who may have voted for him.

Thanks to the Welsh Labour no child will go hungry in Hart’s constituency because our Welsh government has already extended free school meals during the holidays. But poverty blights the lives of millions across Britain. If our MPs are blind to this, we must remind them that it is their duty to do more to help the 31% of children in Pembrokeshire and 29% of children in Carmarthenshire living in poverty today.”

Philippa Thompson, Labour Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Dyfed-Powys, and former Parliamentary candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire said: “No child should go hungry at any time, and it’s essential we help especially during this crisis. Over a million people have signed Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition, which shows the strength of public opinion. Ensuring the continuation of free school meal provision has been a key priority for the Welsh Labour Government, in stark contrast to the Tory vote against struggling families in England”.

Alistair Cameron – former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for CWSP said: “Simon Hart has shown a callous neglect for struggling families. Whilst Kirsty Williams in the Senedd has been ensuring that poverty should not mean hunger for our most disadvantaged children, our MP has chosen to deny children across the border the funding that could stop them from going hungry.”

Cris Tomos former Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate for Preseli said: “The issues associated with increasing levels of child poverty in the 21st century is a sad and worrying reflection on our society and the lack of priority that the current Conservative government is placing on children’s wellbeing. Children should not have to go hungry in any of the 4 nations of the UK, but as we see increasing levels of rents and mortgage repayments hitting household budgets form one month to the other the amount remaining for the weekly food shopping is falling to worrying low levels. The levels of working families that are now experiencing food shortages is totally unacceptable and there needs to be a complete rethink of how wealth is distributed within the UK. The cost of living will only become notably tougher as we see the onslaught of Brexit increasing the costs of our groceries and food supply chain increases. Action needs to be taken now to protect our most vulnerable children from experiencing the devastating effects of hunger.”

Simon Hart said on his Facebook page: “Free school meals, a debate that impacts only England. The “opposition motion” last Wednesday was seeking an extension to the free school meal programme into the holidays was non-binding and even if passed would not have changed anything.

“The frustrating thing about these motions is that they are nothing more than political theatre.

“For what it’s worth, it was the this Government that extended FSM’s in Easter and Summer holidays in the first place but which has now decided that families in greater need are best served through increasing benefits over a whole year, not just via food vouchers in the holidays. I do understand how this looks in the media though (which is exasperating for all of us) but it’s not as straightforward as just removing something without trying to offset the consequences.”

Stephen Crabb MP, abstained from voting on the bill – a decision he says was done in protest to let his government know he did not agree with their views.

Mr Crabb has spoken previously of his background. He came from a single parent family, was raised in a council house and receivws free school meals.

Many social media users took Crabb’s decision not to vote as a decision that was just as bad as voting with the government with some branding him a hypocrite.

Taking to his Facebook page, Crabb defended his decision.

He told his constituents: “I took a decision to abstain on the vote, which is a well-recognised form of protest. I have made it very clear to the Government that I do not agree with them on this issue.”

Even though Crabb abstained, he told his followers that the free school meal provision wasn’t the way to tackle the problem of child poverty.

He added: “I am supportive of the holiday provision of free school meals but I think we also need to be looking at solutions that go beyond just vouchers. The main poverty charities I speak to have different views about whether vouchers are effective or not.
“I did not like the nature of the Labour Party’s debate in the Commons last Wednesday and I think some of the abuse being thrown around is appalling. The vote last week would have had no material impact on provision even if it had passed.”

Mr Crabb added: “More widely, whilst the issue of free school meals is important, ultimately we should be aiming to lift people out of poverty so that they no longer need this support. I have spent much of the last few months working hard on the campaign to keep the temporary £20 uplift to Universal Credit.
“The UK Government introduced a much welcome per-week increase in UC at the start of the crisis but this measure will expire in April, unless the Government commits to an extension.”

Mr Crabb assured his Pembrokeshire constituents he will continue to try and tackle child poverty.

He added: “I have spent a large proportion of my time in Westminster over the last few months campaigning on the issues of child poverty and pushing for more support for families on low incomes. I will continue to make this a priority.”

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Masks now advised in all secondary schools

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PUPILS across Wales are now being advised to wear facemasks in all communal areas of secondary schools (including playgrounds), colleges and on transport to and from places of learning by the Welsh Government.

Although not compulsory, the new recommendations have been made by ministers to ensure a consistent approach in tackling COVID-19 across Wales.

People picking up and dropping off children are also advised to wear face coverings too to minimise the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19.

The new guidance, aimed mainly at secondary schools, which the Education Minister has described as ‘easy to follow’ was announced today and now means that the only spaces where staff and pupils can safely remove their facemasks is in the classroom.

The majority of councils already require secondary pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and on most school transport with those rules extended to primary pupils too in some areas.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.

“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that”.

The new advice has been recommended by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (Tag), which has been looking at the “possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport” and could “even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis…. balancing benefits with harms to overall wellbeing of students.”

Tag is also looking at how feasible a mass asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges could be, the Welsh Government has said it is considering that approach.

Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Face masks and coverings in communal areas could have serious consequences for Wales’ 2,500 deaf children, almost all of whom rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
“Socialising in corridors, break time chats and playground games are all rites of passage, but deaf young people now risk missing out because they can’t understand what others are saying. They’re also more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and bullying.
“Public health is the priority, but schools and colleges must move quickly to introduce reasonable adjustments to help deaf young people during this difficult time.”

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Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

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TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution following the rise in coronavirus cases in Ceredigion.

Bro Preseli Day Centre in Crymych and Wintern Day Centre, Goodwick, are to close temporarily from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

The decision to close each site will be reviewed regularly.

It is emphasised that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 detected at either site and the temporary closures have been put in place as a precaution.

 

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North Pembrokeshire schools remain closed

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THE SIX North Pembrokeshire schools which were closed today (Monday, November 23) as a precaution following the increased spread of coronavirus in South Ceredigion, will remain closed tomorrow (Tuesday, November 23).

The Pembrokeshire schools are:

• Ysgol Preseli
• Ysgol y Frenni
• Ysgol Llandudoch
• Ysgol Eglwyswrw
• Ysgol Cilgerran
• Ysgol Clydau.

The Pembrokeshire schools are closed as a precaution as they share services – such as transport – with the Ceredigion schools.

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