Boris Johnson under pressure to U-turn on free schools meals in time for Christmas

Kate Devlin
·3-min read
Boris Johnson  (Getty Images)
Boris Johnson (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure to perform a U-turn over free schools meals in time for Christmas following calls from Labour and even some of those on his own backbenches.

The Conservative MP and former children’s minister Tim Loughton said he would lobby the prime minister to reverse his decision not to provide food for poor children during the holidays.

Labour also made clear it would force another Commons vote on the issue before the Christmas recess.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said her party would not “give up on the fight to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry” on Christmas Day.

Hundreds of businesses and councils across the country announced last week that they will feed children this half-term after Tory MPs voted down a call from the England footballer Marcus Rashford to provide free school meals outside term-time.

Downing Street continues to resist growing calls to repeat a school meal voucher scheme, which ran throughout the summer.

But the Conservatives are now facing multiple demands for public apologies after Tory MPs took to social media to lash out at the outcry over the issue.

One Conservative MP was accused of stigmatising working class families after he replied to a tweet in which another user described the programme as "£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel".

In a post, which has since been removed, Ben Bradley wrote: "That's what FSM (free school meal) vouchers in the summer effectively did..."

Another Tory MP told cafes and others helping to feed hungry children next week she hoped they “will not be seeking any further government support”.

Selaine Saxby, the Tory MP for North Devon and a former teacher, also said she was “delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free”.

Mr Bradley claimed his tweet had been taken out of context, though he did not explain how, during an interview with BBC Breakfast.

The MP for Mansfield said: "I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn't helpful.”

Campaigners insist the vouchers are restricted and cannot be used to pay for certain items.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said his comments stigmatised working class families and were “disgraceful and disgusting".

Shadow children's minister Tulip Siddiq has written to Amanda Milling, the co-chairwoman of the Conservatives, calling for her to distance her party from the remarks, adding: "I respectfully ask you to request an apology from Mr Bradley to the millions of children from lower income households who benefit from free school meal support.”

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who voted to extend free school meals during the holidays, called on the prime minister to meet Rashford.

The chairman of the commons education select committee said the move was a "no-brainer", adding: "It may be that they don't agree with everything that Marcus Rashford is proposing, but it would give us a chance to come up with a long-term plan to combat child food hunger once and for all."

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