This is what two of the South Yorkshire's MPs who voted against Labour's free school meals motion had to say about it

South Yorkshire Conservative MPs have explained why they voted against Labour's motion to provide disadvantaged children with free school meals during the holidays.

By Bradie Pell, Graysons Solicitors head of family law
Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 4:24 pm

Labour put forward a motion in the House of Commons on Wednesday night calling for 1.4m disadvantaged children in England to be given £15-a-week food vouchers during holidays until Easter 2021.

The motion was voted down by Conservative MPs, including Miriam Cates. Her Penistone and Stocksbridge constituency is ranked 340 most deprived out of 533 constituencies in England.

Ms Cates said no one was denying poverty existed and the Government was supporting families through Universal Credit.

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South Yorkshire MPs Miriam Cates and Nick Fletcher both voted against the motion to extend free school meals provision into school holidays

She said: "This was supposedly a debate about free school meals, but even if the motion had passed, the result would not be more free school meals.

"During holidays, schools are closed and don’t provide physical meals - free or not - to any child. What was really being called for was not free school meals, but rather the continuation of a scheme that would give a £15 supermarket voucher to the parent of each child who is eligible.

"That is not the same as providing a daily nutritious meal to a child in the school environment, to help them get the most out of their education.

"I think it’s important to recognise the difference between free school meals and a supermarket voucher."

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe

Ms Cates said the initial voucher scheme was set up in March as a "practical response" to schools needing to close during lockdown.

She added: "Whilst some schools continued to deliver physical meals to children studying at home, for many this wasn’t possible, and the voucher scheme addressed this. But no one suggested at the time that this was anything other than a temporary solution.

"Nobody would seek to deny that child poverty exists, or that we must be doing whatever we can to bring people out of it. But that is not achieved by occasionally distributing supermarket vouchers.

But Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, said it would have been a simple and inexpensive way to stop millions of children going hungry.

Nick Fletcher MP for Don Valley pictured in Bawtry

"We are in unprecendented times and we are seeing families really struggling across the region. This would be a simple thing the government could do to help families and make children's holidays a bit easier.

"We know parents will be skipping meals to feed their children plus holiday hunger clubs and other activities are not going ahead as normal so it will be even harder.

"This would be an inexpensive way to make such a difference."

Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher, who represents the Conservatives and was elected in 2019, also voted against the motion and said the Government had already provided an ‘extra £9.3 billion’ to those most in need.

General Election 2019 Olivia Blake is returned as MP for Sheffield Hallam following a recount at the English Institute for Sport in Sheffield

Mr Fletcher said: “Universal Credit has also helped 5.6 million people during this crisis.

"It ensures that families can get by without having to rely on subsidised meals over the Christmas holidays."

The vote had the support of Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford after a campaign led by the striker put pressure on the Government in their previous U-turn earlier in the year.

Figures show that Doncaster has 9,618 children eligible for free school meals. Sheffield has 20,435, Barnsley 7,783 and Rotherham 8,727.

Mr Fletcher also added that Government has also given an additional £20 a week for people in receipt of Universal Credit.

On Universal Credit, Mr Fletcher said it had helped 5.6 million people which ‘ensures that families can get by without having to rely on subsidised meals over the Christmas’.

Conservative Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford also voted against the bill and was unavailable for comment.

Labour’s Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband voted for the motion to continue free school meals for disadvantaged children.

He said: "So many families are facing terrible financial pressure at this time. Free school meals are a lifeline. It was right to continue to them over the summer and it is right to continue them now during the school holidays.

“It is terrible that Tory MPs voted down this sensible measure to stop children going hungry. They must explain why they did so."

Labour Doncaster Central MP Rosie Winterton could not vote as chaired the parliamentary debate through her role as deputy speaker.

Mr Fletcher added: “Since March, the Government has provided an extra £9.3 billion to help individuals who are most in need.”

“The Government has also given an additional £20 a week to individuals in receipt of Universal Credit. Councils have also received £63 million to help support families.

“While I fully appreciate how difficult it is at the moment, this support ensures that households in need are being looked after by the Government.”

Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion said she was appalled that so many MPs had voted against the motion.

She said: "The last Labour Government was on target to meet its commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. It shocks and appals me that we still have children going hungry, but appals me more that 322 Tory MP’s voted against providing free school meals for those children over Christmas."

Dan Jarvis, Barnsley East Labour MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor added: “Last night I was proud to support Labour’s motion to provide free school meals for the most disadvantaged children in our communities. 7,783 children in Barnsley are eligible for free school meals, and Labour’s plan would ensure they were fed throughout the school holidays up to Easter 2021.

“Unfortunately, the Conservative Government voted down Labour’s motion. This is further proof that despite the Government’s rhetoric around ‘levelling up’ their actions are serving to level down communities in Barnsley and across the North of England.”

John Healey, Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne echoed his colleagues sentiment, adding: "The Tories voting against Labour's motion means more than a million children will go hungry over the school holidays.

"Free school meals are a lifeline for many, especially during this pandemic. In Rotherham and Barnsley, 16,450 children can get free schools meals. That's thousands of families now worried about feeding their kids in the holidays - and this is just as more families face sharp falls in income, with South Yorkshire going into tighter restrictions and income support schemes being cut."