BLACKBURN MP Kate Hollern writes her fortnightly column for the Lancashire Telegraph...

LAST week’s much publicised vote on the provision of free school meals during the holidays very much illustrated that sadly we are a long way away from the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This issue, on top of the debate about councils moving into Tier-3 restrictions, has brought home the fact that attempts to bring infection rates under control have not succeeded and everyone’s lives will continue to be affected well into 2021.

In times of national challenge, Governments have a moral duty to ensure that all citizens are protected from the impacts of crises but also that measures are in place to address the knock on effects.

The evidence of suffering and hardship being caused by Covid-19 is clear.

In Blackburn with Darwen alone those entitled to free school meals has risen from 4,705 in 2019 to 5,476 today – that means potentially almost 1,000 more families in hardship.

This situation will without doubt have been replicated across every single borough in the whole country.

I’ve heard comments by some Conservative MPs that the Government is not responsible for the welfare of children, or for providing food for children. I have never agreed with this view.

Local councils have for many years held a legal responsibility which describes them as ‘statutory parents’ – meaning that all councils must BY LAW ensure the welfare of every child in the borough.

If councils hold this legal responsibility then it does not hold that Government does not hold the same responsibility at national level.

I therefore had no qualms in supporting the motion to ensure that free school meal provision continued through the coming school holidays.

And to those who suggest that this sets a precedent – I would say it does not.

These are exceptional times, parents are losing their jobs and children ARE going hungry.

Any Government in a civilised society should see no difficulty in ensuring such a basic provision – which in the grand scheme of things will cost government very little.

The other big event of the past two weeks has of course been the introduction of Tier 3 restrictions. The changes were agreed across Lancashire a little over a week ago, and following a failure of the Government to come to an agreement in Greater Manchester they were later imposed on all the authorities in that area.

I certainly hope that Tier 3 will make a difference to infection rates.

However, whilst I would of course encourage every resident to do their bit to comply with the regulations I am afraid that I will not be surprised if there has been little change to infection rates after the 28 day period is up.

In Wales a ‘firebreak’ lockdown has been implemented. Whilst in England the Prime Minister refuses to go down this route.

I understand the Prime Minister’s reluctance to impose a ‘circuit breaker’, because this will result in huge costs being incurred by Government. However, it is clear that this may be the only option if we are to see a real reduction in infection rates and the protection of our already overstretched NHS at a time when hospitals would be busy even without Covid-19.

On too many occasions the Prime Minister has been forced into decisions and has ended up on the back foot.

I would urge Mr Johnson to be bold and take the strong decision the nation needs at this time.