Westminster rejects free school meals bill

Free meals
The Bill would have been used to tackle child poverty by providing free meals. Source: Pixnio
On October 21, a bill to provide free school meals for children struggling with food poverty was voted down in the House of Commons.

By Holly Mulholland | Contributor

The Labour motion, if passed, would’ve provided £15 food vouchers per week for over 1.3 million children in England, extending the free school meals scheme over the holiday period until Easter 2021. 

Food poverty in Britain is a prolific issue, with 10% of adults reporting food insecurity. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, many families have been struggling more than usual with food bank emergency parcels forecasted to see a 61% increase between October and December. 

Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield took to twitter to defend the outcome, “At one school in #Mansfield 75% of the kids have a social worker, 25% of parents are illiterate. Their estate is the centre of the area’s crime. One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending #FSM doesn’t reach these kids”. He has since deleted the tweets. 

Danny Kruger, MP for Devizes, commented ‘The problem is that generous, unconditional, universal benefit entitlements trap people in dependency on the state and rightly enrage people who are working hard for themselves. That’s why I believe in a more flexible, community-led approach to welfare’. 

Five Conservative MPs voted against the government. Caroline Ansell was among them and has since stepped down as Minister for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. She said that vouchers were not a long-term solution but that she ‘could not in all conscience ignore her belief’ that the policy would benefit families struggling during the pandemic. Another of the Conservative rebels, Robert Halfon, said that it may not have been a perfect solution but it could’ve given them the chance to come up with a long-term plan.

The voting down of the bill has drawn a large degree of critique from the public. Twitter was flooded with people up-in-arms, 2,000 paediatricians have signed a letter to implore the government to follow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s lead. Nigel Farage criticised the vote saying that “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out, not being seen to give poor kids lunch in the school holidays looks mean and is wrong”.

The rejection of the bill by Westminster has both inspiring outrage in the public, but also generosity. Hundreds of communities have pulled together to try and support their local children through free meals, there has been an increase in donations and volunteers to food banks deliver goods. Many small businesses have also offered free meals to children who need them.

Marcus Rashford, the outspoken football player who has been a prominent voice in the campaign against food poverty for children, and who has already forced one government U-turn in the summer on the subject, said that he was devastated and that ‘these children matter… for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine’. 

Labour have promised that they will push for another vote with Labour Leader Keir Starmer saying that ‘It’s not too late to do the right thing’. Considering the negative response to the vote, it could be that a Government U-turn is on the horizon. Senior Conservative member Sir Bernard Jenkin seems to support this prediction, saying that the government ‘misunderstood’ the public mood. Whether the public will forgive the government is yet to be seen.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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