Hilary reading South Leeds Life
Hilary reading South Leeds Life

Free school meals, strikes and a life well lived

First things first. Happy New Year and let us hope it is a better one than 2022 – mind you that wouldn’t be too difficult!

So what about New Year resolutions?

One that would make a real difference would be free school meals for all children of primary age, and that’s why I am backing a Bill in Parliament that would do just that.

At the moment, all children get a free school lunch until the end of Year 2 but after that pupils only qualify if their family gets certain benefits. And that means that around 800,000 children living in households on low incomes – including in Leeds – miss out.

You only have to hear the stories of children coming to school having had no breakfast or listen to headteachers worried about under-nourished pupils to see how important it is that every child should get at least one decent hot meal a day. No-one should be going hungry.

And on the subject of education, the world should be putting all the pressure it can on the Taliban to reverse their shocking decision to prevent girls and women in Afghanistan from attending secondary school and now university. The sight of women studying to be doctors and engineers crying as they heard this devastating news was difficult to watch. It is utterly shameful, and it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the old story of men trying to tell girls and women what they can and cannot do. No-one should be denied the chance of an education, wherever they live.

A few weeks ago, a number of buses were parked up along the Embankment by the House of Commons. The first one was an electric single decker made just outside Leeds. The other two were buses manufactured in Scotland and Northern Ireland and both run on hydrogen which is converted by a fuel cell into electricity to power the wheels.

We all know that we have to move on from petrol and diesel vehicles, so decarbonising our bus fleet will be a really important part of doing that. One of the hydrogen buses has a picture of a tap on the back of the bus and it’s there to remind us that the only by-product of burning hydrogen is water. That’s why it is a really clean technology as long as the hydrogen itself is made by electrolysis using renewable electricity – so-called green hydrogen.

There are other types of hydrogen – including grey (made from natural gas) and blue (also made from natural gas, but where they try to capture the carbon dioxide so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere) – but green is what we should be aiming for.

It’s really exciting when you see the future before your eyes, and these were all great examples of mainly British manufacturing (we just need to start making vehicle batteries – and soon).

There’s a lot of industrial action going on at the moment as workers try to protect their living standards against the ravages of inflation. I recently visited the CWU postal workers picket line at the Holbeck delivery office and striking nurses outside the LGI. In the case of the nurses, who are members of the RCN, this is the first time in their history that they have ever been on strike. And that’s why society should pause and think about what has driven them to do this.

In both cases, the conversations I had told me that it’s not just about pay. It is also about working conditions. In the case of Royal Mail, how the management want to undermine the workers’ terms and conditions in future and in the case of the nurses, it’s the problems the NHS faces in filling vacancies and how this adds to the pressures they have to deal with on the wards. It is the task of the Government to sort this out. After all, the workers simply want a just and fair settlement so they can get back to the jobs they are proud to do.

It’s not often that you find a charity shop in Victoria Arcade next to John Lewis in the city centre but for a week before Christmas Holbeck Together took over a shop unit there with help from the Leeds Building Society, Sook and, of course, Victoria Gate. As the proud Patron of the charity, I popped in to take a look.

There was really impressive range of clothes, handmade Christmas decorations and other items on sale and trade was brisk. Reloved – as the shop concept is called – was established by Holbeck Together during the pandemic to raise funds for this local charity which is always trying out new ideas to help the people it serves so effectively. Congratulations to everyone involved.

And finally, a thank you for a life well lived.

Just before Christmas we all heard the sad news that Colin Cooper, who played for Hunslet in the 1950s and subsequently became the face of the Hunslet Parkside youth and junior club, had passed away.

Colin was a lovely man and his dedication to rugby league and to supporting the next generation was evident to all who had the privilege of meeting him. As the new club Hunslet ARLFC – formed last year through a merger of Hunslet Club Parkside and Hunslet Warriors – said of Colin:

“As well as producing hundreds of professionals, he introduced thousands of kids to the amateur game, with many still involved.”

All our thoughts are with his family.

First published in the January 2023 edition of South Leeds Life – available online here https://southleedslife.com/mps-notebook-free-school-meals-strikes-and-a-life-well-lived/

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