Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals during holidays is defeated in House of Commons

England footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign to provide free meals for poor children during school holidays has been defeated in a House of Commons vote.
Marcus RashfordMarcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford

Labour MPs had tabled a motion calling for the free school meals scheme to be extended beyond term time until Easter 2021 in light of the Manchester United star's recent food poverty campaign.

Yet the vote was defeated by 322 votes to 261 in the Commons on Wednesday night - giving the government a majority of 61 votes.

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Conservative MPs have argued that the state had provided financial support for children living in poverty via local authorities during the coronavirus crisis, and that it was not the role of schools to provide meals outside of term time.

Mr Rashford released a poignant statement on Twitter following the vote, in which he pointed out that he had a 'social education' which many MPs lacked.

“Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality. A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.

“We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation. This is not politics, this is humanity.”

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The footballer was praised by Labour MPs including Mary Kelly Foy, who received free school meals as a child and later taught in secondary schools in deprived areas of London and Birmingham.

Bradford West MP Naz Shah pointed out that 5,500 children in her constituency are eligible for free school meals.

However two Yorkshire Conservative MPs backed their party over the result.

Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) said a food voucher scheme over the school holidays would only ever be a “sticking plaster” for tackling child poverty.

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She told the Commons: “I think it’s important to recognise the difference between free school meals, what they are for, and supermarket vouchers.

“The initial supermarket voucher scheme was set up in March and it wasn’t an attempt to solve child poverty, which is a matter for the welfare system and not our schools.”

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) said he had a “slight fall-out on the Twittersphere with Marcus Rashford a couple of weeks ago on this particular issue”.

He said: “They’d (his constituents) be appalled by the prospect of the government interfering in their daily lives to make sure their children don’t go hungry.

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“I simply tweeted, where they can, it’s a parents’ job to feed their children.”

Other Conservatives pointed out that Rashford experienced childhood poverty when he was growing up under a Labour government. The footballer was born in 1997, the year Tony Blair came to power.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons: “During the unprecedented and unpredictable period at the start of the pandemic it was right that extra measures were taken to provide free school meals during the holidays.

“But we are in a different position now that we have welcomed all pupils back to school.

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“Taken together it is clear that the Government has taken very significant and unprecedented action to support children and families at risk of hardship during this period.

“Free school meals are and always have been about supporting children with a meal to help them when they’re at school or currently at home learning.

“But it is our support through Universal Credit and our comprehensive welfare system that supports families.”

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