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'I do not believe in nationalising children': MPs vote against extending free school meals scheme

Conservative backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith said he didn’t believe in “nationalising children”.

Image: Photojoiner/PA Images

A BID TO EXTEND free school meals in the UK over the holidays was dealt a blow after MPs voted against the measure tonight.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford urged politicians to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”

He released a statement after Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61.

Downing Street ruled out performing a late u-turn ahead of the vote, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also telling Prime Minister’s Questions: “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.

“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”

The Scottish and Welsh governments have already pledged to extend the free school meals programme over the school holiday periods – up to and including Easter 2021.

Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted out ahead of the vote that Conservative MPs “can do the right thing and vote to extend free school meals over half term and the Christmas holiday” – he later tweeted out: “they didn’t”

2.55871434 (1) Source: PA Images

Rashford said that child food poverty “has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced”.

“We must start working together and unite to protect our most vulnerable children. No more sticking plasters. Let’s face this head on,” he said.

He said the requirements of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce remain the same, adding: “Following private and public approaches, I once again invite Number 10 to sit around the table with the taskforce so that, together, we can collaborate on how best to combat child poverty in the UK.”

Rashford continued: “I don’t have the education of a politician, many on Twitter have made that clear today, but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected.

“These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”

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The Commons debate

Conservative backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) argued against Labour’s proposal by saying he did not believe in “nationalising children”.

He told the Commons: “Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?

I do not believe in nationalising children.
Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility, and this means less celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.

Tory David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) also said: “What does it say about the Opposition’s priorities that all of their interests are simply swept aside in favour of currying favour with wealth and power and celebrity status, spending taxpayers’ money to curry favour with celebrity status, wealth and power.

“Now I have no doubt that Mr Rashford is an expert in his own experience, but we should not forget that the experiences he so movingly described took place under a Labour government then supposedly at the peak of its powers in tackling child poverty in this country.”

Tory minister Paul Scully also told the BBC that “children have been going hungry under a Labour government for years” and insisted the British government had been tackling the issue.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, branded the result of the vote as “callous”.

No MP who voted against this will be going hungry tonight, not one of them will be wondering where their next meal is coming from and not one of them will struggle through every single day with insufficient food.

“This isn’t right. No child should return to school after the half term break too hungry to learn.”

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