Opposition figures have savaged the Government after Tory MPs voted against footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to have free school meals for eligible children extended through the coming holidays.
Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the Conservatives had voted to let the more than 1.4 million children eligible for free school meals go hungry through the holidays.
“Tonight I voted to feed our country’s vulnerable and needy children. The Tories voted to let them go hungry,” she tweeted, adding: “I voted for workers facing hardship in areas under lockdown to get 80% of their incomes. The Tories voted against it. That’s all you need to know.”
Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome also attacked the Conservatives.
“I don’t know how the 322 Tory MPs are sleeping tonight. Because I can’t, knowing that 1.4 million children like Cameron will go hungry this Christmas,” she said, referring to a boy featured in a documentary she shared.
She added: “Rishi Sunak spent £500m on the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme. It costs around £20m to provide free school meals for a week. There is money for half-price Nando’s but there’s no money to feed children?”
The Liberal Democrats’ health and social care spokeswoman Munira Wilson tweeted: “It would be hugely unjust for this Govt to allow children to go hungry this winter, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. I urged the Govt to follow the lead of Lib Dem Edu Minister Kirsty Williams in Wales by extending #FreeSchoolMeals over the school holidays.”
Former Labour minister Dame Joan Ruddock tweeted: “I cannot comprehend how Tory MPs can justify denying the children of poorest families one proper meal each day of the holidays. School meals are known to be essential to the health & wellbeing of these children & there is no substitute. They WILL go hungry – such cruelty.”
Labour’s Richard Burgon said the Tories had shown they did not care that children would go hungry.
“I’m disgusted by what’s just happened in Parliament,” he tweeted. “Tory MPs just voted down extending free school meals over the Christmas holiday. They know this will mean 1 million kids going hungry. They just don’t care. A sickening display of Tory contempt for people in our communities.”
Some Conservatives, however, defended the decision.
Nottingham MP Ben Bradley engaged in a Twitter exchange with Rashford, writing: “Gov has lots of responsibilities: supporting the vulnerable, helping people to help themselves, balancing the books.
“Not as simple as you to make out Marcus. Extending FSM to sch hols passes responsibility for feeding kids away from parents, to the State. It increases dependency.”
Rashford tweeted back: “Ben, the economy already pays a high price for child hunger. If children were fed properly you would increase educational attainment and boost life chances. @KelloggsUKI calculated we would spend at least £5.2M a year on lost teaching hours as teachers are caring for hungry kids.
“And for a more humane response, since March, 32% of families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly 1 million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this a cry for help. There are no jobs!! 250% increase in food poverty and rising. Nobody said this was simple…”
Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said Britain had “reached a low point if in the midst of a pandemic we decide we can’t make sure children in the lowest income families have a nutritious meal in the middle of the day”.
“Tonight’s vote means more children going without and more desperately anxious parents – just as a coronavirus winter approaches,” Ms Garnham was quoted as saying in the Daily Mirror.
“In short it ducks our moral responsibility to protect the country’s most vulnerable children.
“It will not sit well with all those people from many walks of life who back Marcus Rashford because they do not want child poverty to be ignored any longer.”