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This Is Just How Badly The Government's School Meals Vote Went Down

Léonie Chao-Fong
·News reporter, HuffPost UK
·4-min read
The government's refusal to extend free school meals has led to an outpouring of anger.  (Photo: REUTERS)
The government's refusal to extend free school meals has led to an outpouring of anger. (Photo: REUTERS)

On Wednesday, Tory MPs voted down a motion to implement footballer Marcus Rashford’s plan to extend free school meals for pupils right through until the Easter holidays next year.

The motion, put forward by Labour leader Keir Starmer, was defeated by 322 votes to 261. The majority of 61 was less than the government’s 80-strong majority. Some 38 Tories did not register a vote.

By refusing to extend the scheme, the government opted to cut short a lifeline for the most vulnerable families. As a result, 1.4 million children risk going to bed hungry this Christmas.

The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments have already put in place funding for the holiday extension.

But on Friday Downing Street confirmed it would not U-turn on the issue, insisting the government’s position was “clear”.

The government earlier this week said it had boosted Universal Credit during the pandemic by £20 and had a “generous” wage support scheme for those struggling.

Here’s a rundown of the response to the vote:

Marcus Rashford

The England footballer – who has spent months campaigning to stop child hunger through school holidays – reacted to the vote by vowing not to give up his campaign.

He tweeted: “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.”

Rashford and his mother visited food charity FareShare in Greater Manchester on Thursday, a day after the Tories voted down the motion, to meet staff and volunteers to see how the charity will be responding to soaring demand this Christmas.

He has himself made clear that he wants a long term solution to child hunger, on top of the holiday extension and has challenged Johnson to honour his election pledge to “level up” the UK by introducing a comprehensive package to end child poverty and hunger.

He has called for major changes to the welfare system, including an end to the Tories’ two-child cap on Universal Credit and an increase in the value of healthy eating vouchers for pregnant mothers.

His parliamentary petition has so far attracted more than half a million signatures.

Businesses

One pub in Rishi Sunak’s constituency said the chancellor and three northern MPs were “barred for life” after they voted down the motion.

Rashford has been sharing posts from businesses and groups nationwide that are volunteering free food for children who may otherwise go hungry.

Marcus Rashford reacted to the vote by vowing not to give up his campaign.    (Photo: REUTERS)
Marcus Rashford reacted to the vote by vowing not to give up his campaign. (Photo: REUTERS)

On Thursday night, he wrote: “Blown away by news of local businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half term. Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know.

“Add #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY to your tweets so I can track them. I will share as many as I can.”

A wave of businesses have responded to Marcus Rashford’s anti-hunger campaign by offering to help feed families after the Tories refused to extend support over holidays.

From free sandwiches, sausages and curries to the offer of taxis to the nearest available foodbank, dozens of posts have now been shared online as millions of families face a half term of potential hardship.

On Friday, Downing Street three times refused to praise those who offered to help during a Westminster briefing.

Councils

On Friday, Tory-run Hillingdon Council – the prime minister’s own constituency –said it will be giving free school meals to children over the half-term holidays.

The Conservative-run council of Kensington and Chelsea said it would provide a £15 voucher to families for food or essential supplies during the half-term holidays.

The following councils have promised to step in to provide help for the most vulnerable children over half-term.

Ashfield

Barnsley

Birmingham

Bradford

Brent

Bristol

Camden

City of York

Doncaster

Enfield

Essex

Greater Manchester

Greenwich

Hackney

Halton

Hammersmith & Fulham

Havering

Hull

Islington

Kirkless

Knowsley

Lambeth

Lewisham

Liverpool

Medway

Middlesbrough

Newcastle

North Tyneside

Oldham

Portsmouth

Redbridge

Rochdale

Rotherham

Salford

Sheffield

Southwark

St Helens

Staffordshire

Telford & Wrekin

Tower Hamlets

Wigan

Wolverhampton

Labour

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said after the vote: “Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families.

“No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the Government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.

“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue. This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.