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REVULSION at the Tory government’s choice to let 1.4 million children go hungry during the school holidays was expressed from all quarters yesterday.
MPs, councils, charities, businesses, churches and even a Premier League club showed their contempt for the decision not to extend free school meals, offering to step in and ensure that no child goes hungry during this week’s half-term break.
PM Boris Johnson also faced a growing revolt from Tory backbenchers as ministers continued to resist demands for a U-turn.
Labour said that if the government did not reverse its decision, it would force another vote on the issue in the Commons. The opposition was defeated on the issue last Wednesday, by 322 votes to 261.
In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, shadow education secretary Kate Green said that Labour “will not give up on the fight to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry.”
Ms Green recalled the appalling comments of the Tories’ Mansfield MP Ben Bradley, who recently suggested on social media that summer school meal money had effectively funded “crack dens” and “brothels.”
She also referred to Selaine Saxby, Tory MP for North Devon, who criticised businesses in her area for providing free meals to children during school holidays.
The campaign to fund meals for poor and vulnerable children during the school holidays was launched by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.
In September he set up a child food poverty taskforce which set out a plan to ensure that every child is fed.
Ms Green called for Mr Williamson, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to meet the taskforce to discuss its proposals.
Mr Rashford’s parliamentary petition to end child food poverty has received more than 800,000 signatures, while the striker said he was “truly overwhelmed” that 1,000 organisations have pledged to provide free meals to children.
More than 50 local authorities have pledged to provide meals during school holidays.
From Barnsley to Basildon, Hackney to Hull, Lambeth to Liverpool and Rotherham to Redbridge, local authorities defied the government’s heartless decision by pledging to feed local children.
Even some Tory councils revolted against the government, among them the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
In the north of England, where Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of workers laid off on just 67 per cent of their wages, Manchester City Council said it would ensure that about 28,000 children entitled to free school meals — 31 per cent of Manchester’s school population — will get a daily meal during the holidays.
Cllr Garry Bridges said: “Marcus Rashford is right — no child should be going hungry during school holidays. We’re determined to make sure that no children go hungry on our watch.”
Sheffield City Council in South Yorkshire, where Tier 3 restrictions were imposed at the weekend, said it would provide free meals.
Sheffield Trades Union Council secretary Martin Mayer welcomed the move and said: “It is truly shocking that this Tory government has the audacity to vote against Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign, yet finds billions to pay for fat contracts to big business, fund the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and award themselves a hefty pay rise.
“It is quite right that the Tories’ action has been dubbed ‘Starve a Kid to Save a Quid’.”
Premier League club Leeds United pledged £25,000 towards ensuring that the city’s vulnerable children do not go hungry.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons liaison committee of senior Tory MPs, said: “I think we have to admit that we have misunderstood the mood of the country here.”
And former defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he regretted voting with the government last week. He said that extending free school meals offered a “simple and practical vehicle” for providing support to families.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis defended the government’s position and insisted that people have received the support they need during the school holidays.
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