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Marcus Rashford Has Issued A Powerful Statement After The Tories Voted Down Free School Meals During The Holidays

4 min read

The Conservatives tonight voted down proposals to extend free school meals for the poorest children into the holidays, prompting a backlash from premiership footballer and child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United player Rashford tweeted that it was time to focus on the "reality that children are going to bed hungry tonight" just minutes after the vote, which was 322 against to 261 in favour.

Labour's motion would have extended free school meals in England through the holidays until Easter 2021. After pressure from Rashford earlier this year the government agreed to allow the scheme during the school summer holidays.

Five Tories rebelled against the government to go through the lobbies with Labour tonight. They were Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) and Holly Mumby Croft (Scunthorpe).

The Tories had a majority of 61, and 46 of their MPs did not vote. Not all will have abstained as some will have been paired, or away from Parliament.

The striker invited No 10 to get round the table with him and the Child Food Poverty Taskforce to work on a solution to a child food poverty 'pandemic'. 

 "Following private and public approaches, I once again invite Number 10 to sit around the table with the [Child Food Poverty] Taskforce so that, together, we can collaborate on how best to combat child poverty in the UK."

"These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic," he tweeted.

Angry and fractious scenes were on display in the Commons in the debate preceeding the vote as both sides traded blows on which party had done more over the years to tackle child poverty, and who had real life experience of working with children. 

It also proved divisive for some Tories despite being whipped to vote against the motion, including chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon, who said he agreed with Labour when he spoke in the Commons. 

He said: "Free school meals should be extended over the school holidays, temporarily, as long as the big effects of the pandemic continue to be felt...If we acknowledge that children risk going hungry by providing them with free school meals despite the provision of Universal Credit... then we know they risk going hungry during the holidays too.

"I urge the govt to set out a serious long term plan."

Shadow schools minister, Tulip Siddiq, who closed the debate had urged the Tories to vote with them, saying it was an issue of "humanity". Labour has claimed that millions of children will go hungry without government intervention.

However many Tories strongly disagreed with any extension.

Ex-teacher and Tory MP Jonathan Gullis hit out at the “moral superiority” he claimed was coming from Labour MP for the City of Durham, Mary Foy, who said the Tories had no shame when it came to child hunger.

He said from his own experience in teaching of the free school meal vouchers, he seriously doubted they were always used properly and he wouldn’t be lectured by somebody who hadn’t stood in his shoes working with children on the front-line.

Conservative Kevin Hollinrake MP, who came under fire from Rashford on Twitter in September for saying, "where they can, it's a parents job to feed their children" said that rolling out such a policy could mean higher taxes to pay for it and less money could end up going to those most in need.

Former teacher and Tory MP Brendan Clark-Smith: “We need sensible policies, not policies by PR."

He said while school interventions could be life-changing, they will never replace the role of a parent.

He asked: “When did it suddenly become controversial to suggest the primary responsibility for a child’s welfare should be with their parents.”

Work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: "We are in a different situation now where we are not in the same level of lockdown. More people have come off the furlough scheme and are now back in work...schools are open, the NHS is now treating many more people, not just the people with coronavirus. We need to encourage life to continue as it is and that is why we have put those enhanced measures into Tier 2 and Tier 3."

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