Why we voted against free school meals for children over half term - Sheffield MPs speak out

South Yorkshire Conservative MPs who voted down Labour’s free school meals during the holidays motion have explained their actions.

By Lizzie Day
Friday, 23rd October 2020, 1:33 pm

Labour’s motion on Wednesday night, which called for 1.4 million disadvantaged children in England to be given £15-a-week food vouchers during school holidays until Easter next week, was defeated by 322 votes to 261.

South Yorkshire Conservative MPs, Miriam Cates for Penistone and Stocksbridge, Nick Fletcher for Don Valley and Alexander Stafford for Rother Valley all voted against the bill.

It comes after Manchester United star Marcus Rashford campaigned for the vouchers to be extended with a petition that received over 400,000 signatures.

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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.

Ms Cates, whose Sheffield constituency is ranked 340 most deprived out of 533 constituencies in England, said the Government was supporting families through Universal Credit.

She added: "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."

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

She continued: "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.

Conservative Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher also voted against the motion and said the Government had already provided an ‘extra £9.3 billion’ to those most in need.

Mr Fletcher commented: “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."

“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.”

Since the motion was defeated, the Manchester United player has highlighted the businesses offering free food to children during half term.

More than half a dozen cafes, pubs and shops in Sheffield and South Yorkshire are giving away meals to under 16s next week.

The Handsworth Inn pub, The Rhubarb Shed Cafe, Delphine Fish and Chips, Bridge End Fisheries are giving away packed lunches to children.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.