Why I voted against free school meals for children over the holidays - Leeds MP Stuart Andrew

A Leeds MP has spoken to the Yorkshire Post about why he rejected free school meals for children over the holidays despite Marcus Rashford's campaign

Stuart Andrew voted against free school meals
Stuart Andrew voted against free school meals

The government took a vote on a motion which, if approved, would have seen free school meals for kids extended through the holidays.

The vote in the House of Commons followed a campaign by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

A motion put forward by the Labour party which called for free school meals to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61 - in the Commons on Wednesday, October 21.

Leeds Pudsey MP and Conservative Deputy Chief Whip Stuart Andrew was one of several Yorkshire MPs to vote against the motion.

He told the Yorkshire Post what his reasons were.

Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey, said he 'wanted to explain some facts'.

He said: "There has been a lot said about the Free School Meal debate and how I voted so I want to explain some facts.

"First and foremost, this is an important issue for me, not least because I spent a lot of my time at school on free school meals so I find it hard when the opposition try to make out I don’t care and that Conservative MPs want children to starve. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"That is why I voted for the amendment that underlined our determination to do as much possible to help, especially the most vulnerable. The measures include:-

"• Extending the eligibility for free school meals to a further 50,000 children.

"• Expanded programmes like Breakfast Clubs to ensure a good start to the day.

"• For the last 3 years spent £9 million on the “Holiday Activities and Food Program”, supporting 50,000 of the most deprived children during the summer.

"Create a £63m fund for council’s to use to assist with local welfare.

"This latter fund saw Leeds receive over £1m which help to better target support to the most vulnerable.

"As a Government we provided Free School Meal vouchers over the summer because schools had been closed since March and families had been covering the cost.

"This autumn it is different as schools have reopened and meals are being provided in term time.

"The issue with the vouchers also highlighted that some of the children most in need still did not get the nutritious food they need and that is why the £63million fund is a better way of targeting support.

"It is also important to note that we have about £2.7 billion in unclaimed benefits meaning 700k families were missing out on up to £270 per month. In an attempt to deal with the complexities with applying for benefits we have rolled them into one simpler system so people get what they are entitled to and have provided £40 million to the Citizens Advice Service in the ‘Help to Claim’ scheme.

"Of course, Labour have deliberately tried to make out that we are doing nothing but I would say this: we extended free school meal through the Summer, Labour never did during the financial crash.

"We have added £9bn to welfare support, much more than Labour did during the crash when unemployment soared.

"We introduced a comprehensive Furlough scheme to protect incomes and save jobs. Labour never did this in the crash, instead they simply stood by and allowed jobs to go and people to be made unemployed.

"This vote would not have delivered free school meals as it was a non-binding politically motivated opposition day debate. So whilst I understand the attempt to score political points, I find it hard to take lectures from the opposition when we are taking specific, targeted action in addition to increased family financial support and when I know what it is actually like to be on free school meals.

"This is an important area of work and one I care deeply about but I want a long term solution not the short fix they proposed.

"It also begs the question, if our amendment was so bad, why didn’t the Labour Party vote against our motion?"

Five of Leeds' eight MPs voted in favour of the motion including; Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves.

MP Alec Shelbrooke, for Elmet and Rothwell, also voted against the proposal and he told us why

Leeds businesses step forward for hungry kids

Cafes, pubs and restaurants across the country have stepped up to offer free school meals for local children during half term, after MPs rejected the campaign started by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Schoolchildren aged between four and sixteen will be able to get a free chicken or vegetable biryani from the Chadwick Street restaurant from Saturday October 24 until Sunday, November 1.

The hours to pick up the food are between 5pm and 6pm.

Mumtaz asks that children under 12 come with an adult.

Posting on Facebook, a Mumtaz spokesman said: "We will help if the MP's wont. Put politics to the side.

"No child should go hungry during half-term.

"We are doing this to do our part to support young children and families who truly need support.

"We are all struggling but sometimes the answer is to be be grateful and help more."

Mumtaz, which was founded in Great Horton Road in Bradford back in 1979, is now urging other Leeds businesses to follow suit and offer free meals this half term.

The co-owner of Mumtaz, Asad Arif, said: "This is NOT about politics. This is about doing our part to help.

"If you are a business owner, please do consider doing this yourself. Good only begets good.

"We have to help each other during these very difficult times.”