Tory MPs have been accused of “cruelty” after 300 of them voted against footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals through the school holidays.
A disappointed Rashford, vented his “despair” on Wednesday night as Labour’s plea for free school meals to be extended over the holidays to stop children going hungry failed to persuade the government.
Earlier Rashford had clashed with Tory MPs who suggested that extending free school meals “increases dependency” on the state while the cost could contribute to “destroying the currency”.
The Man United player who became an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list this month, tweeted: “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.”
“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.”
Five Conservative MPs rebelled against their party by voting with Labour - including Ms Ansell who has now stepped down as parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Opposition figures branded the outcome “disgusting”, with many accusing the government of “not caring” that the more than 1.4 million children eligible for free school meals would now go hungry.
The footballer launched a successful campaign for the provision of food vouchers over the six-week summer holidays after schools were closed for the first time in modern British history.
Opening the opposition debate, the shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said the proposal was not a silver bullet but was much-needed in the short term.
“Downing Street said just the other day, and I quote: ‘It is not for schools to provide food to pupils during the school holidays’ … I cannot believe I have to spell this out – it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that children do not go hungry. They don’t stop being hungry just because the school bell rings for the end of term,” she said.
Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Tonight I voted to feed our country’s vulnerable and needy children. The Tories voted to let them go hungry.
“I voted for workers facing hardship in areas under lockdown to get 80 per cent of their incomes. The Tories voted against it. That’s all you need to know.”
Analysis by the Food Foundation estimates a further 900,000 children in England may have sought free school meals since the start of the pandemic.
In England, about 1.3 million children claimed free school meals in 2019 - about 15% of state-educated pupils.
Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham, said: "Britain has reached a low point if in the midst of a pandemic we decide we can’t make sure children in the lowest income families have a nutritious meal in the middle of the day”.
In the Daily Mirror, Ms Garnham said that the vote means more children going without and more desperately anxious parents – just as a coronavirus winter approaches.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has made £10m available to local councils to continue to fund free school meals over Christmas, February and Easter breaks. Local authorities that offered provision over the October school break can apply to be reimbursed.