Labour's free school meals motion was 'virtue signalling ploy' says Yorkshire MP

Wakefield's Conservative MP insisted his party wants to tackle child poverty after Tory MPs voted down a motion in favour of extending a free school meals programme.

Imran Ahmad Khan

The party came under fire this week after a motion seeking to extend the programme into the school holidays to help poorer children during the pandemic was defeated in the House of Commons by 261 votes to 322.

The motion followed a campaign by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to tackle child poverty.

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Sally Kincaid, joint district secretary of Wakefield National Education Union, said the move was "shameful", "callous" and would "result in unnecessary suffering and misery" for nearly 10,000 children in the district.

But Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan, who voted against the motion on Wednesday evening, defended his party's decision.

He said: "I think it is important to dispel some of the misinformation being disseminated. Labour claim that the Conservatives have blanketly voted down free school meals for those that need them.

"This could not be further from the truth. The motion, which was not legislation, was on free school meals during holidays, when schools are closed.

"I fully support breakfast clubs at schools in term time for those who would benefit from it. Not only does it provide a nutritious breakfast to those who need it, but has been proven to help boost academic performances and reduce disruptive behaviours.

"What was proposed by the Labour Party in the Opposition Day debate was a virtue signalling ploy, not a motion, one that would have no legal basis. Even if all Conservative members of parliament abstained, the motion would not have become law.

"The reason the Conservative Party voted against this motion was to clearly spotlight it as a political ruse that would not have cured the disease of poverty. The Conservative Party seeks to eliminate child poverty entirely. The answer is found in building pathways out of poverty through enabling aspiration and achievement."

Fellow Tory MP Andrea Jenykns, who represents Morley and Outwood also voted against the move and has been approached for comment.

Labour MPs Yvette Cooper - representing Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford - and Jon Trickett - representing Hemsworth - voted in favour of the motion.

Ahead of the vote Downing Street ruled out performing a late U-turn, with Boris Johnson also telling Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday: “We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so.

“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school."

The government publishes rankings of deprivation in each constituency in England.

Of the 533 constituencies, with the high ranking representing the highest level of deprivation, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is ranked 101, Hemsworth is ranked 111, Wakefield is ranked 116, and Morley and Outwood is ranked 305.

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