Labour has today called for backbench Conservative MPs to defy Boris Johnson and vote to support the extension of free school meals over the holidays in a vote set to take place on Wednesday.
In the North East over 92,000 children could lose out on a free school meal with over 8,000 set to miss out in Cumbria.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Children and Early Years Minister, has written to every backbench Conservative MP, asking them to support Labour’s proposal, which would provide additional support to over 1.4 million children in every school holiday until Easter.
On Saturday, Labour called for the government to extend free school meals, starting with the October half term which begins in a matter of days. This followed a decision by the Labour Government in Wales to provide this additional support, which was welcomed by Marcus Rashford.
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson previously rejected this measure, saying that it is not the role of schools to provide food to children outside of term.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Children and Early Years Minister, said:
“Families across the country are worrying about how to make ends meet, but the Prime Minister is ruling out giving over a million children food support over the holidays.
“Every Conservative MP now has an opportunity to make it clear that they will support the families in their constituency who are worrying about how they will put food on the table in the weeks ahead.”
The text of Tulip Siddiq’s letter, sent to every backbench Conservative MP, is as follows:
Children across your constituency are eligible for free school meals, and this number will increase as unemployment rises. Many of these children are growing up in very difficult circumstances – in families with low incomes at a time when jobs across the country are at risk.
Parents were more likely than other working people to be furloughed, and as the Job Retention Scheme ends this month ahead and is replaced by the inadequate Job Support Scheme, many more families could see their incomes fall sharply. I am sure you would agree that we must do everything we can to support children growing with these unprecedented challenges.
That is why Labour have called for all children who are eligible for free school meals to receive them in every school holiday until next Easter, starting with the October half term, which is now just days away. This would provide additional support to families on low incomes and help to ensure that all parents can put food on the table for their children, whatever their circumstances. This policy would support the many families in your constituency who are struggling to make ends meet.
I was deeply disappointed that the Prime Minister’s spokesperson rejected this proposal out of hand last week, saying that it is not the role of schools to provide food in the holidays. This shows a shocking ignorance about the role schools have always played in supporting pupils and their families, and it is not a good excuse for failing to provide any free school meals support over the holidays. It is absurd for a government that rightly extended free school meals over the summer to argue that schools should not be supported to do this just because the Prime Minister and Chancellor no longer want to foot the bill.
I believe that it is essential that the Government changes course as a matter of urgency so that children do not have to go without food over the holidays. I am sure you recognise that free school meals are an important means of support for families across your constituency, many of whom will be worrying about how they put food on the table over the half-term and Christmas holidays.
Labour have said that if the Government does not urgently U-turn, we will force a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday – this will mean that you and your colleagues will have to take a clear stance on this issue. I hope that you will join me in calling for the extension of free school meals during the holidays, and that you will vote for it this week if that proves to be necessary.
I look forward to your urgent reply, which I’m sure will be of interest to your constituents.
Tulip Siddiq MP
Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years