Free school meals: MPs could vote again before Christmas as government comes under pressure

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MPs could vote again before Christmas on a plan to extend free school meals during the holidays.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to relent on the issue – with Labour warning it will bring the plan back to the House of Commons if ministers do not relent before Christmas.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet with the taskforce set up by footballer Marcus Rashford “as a matter of urgency” to discuss its proposals for ending child poverty.

On Wednesday, the Government defeated a Labour motion calling for the extension of free meals to eligible children during the school holidays in England until Easter 2021 with a Commons majority of more than 60.

However, the vote simply served to galvanise public support for the campaign launched by Rashford, with local businesses and other organisations coming forward with offers of free meals.

At the same time, a number of councils – including some Conservative-run authorities – have announced stop-gap schemes to cover the October half-term break which begins on Monday.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Ms Green said that if the Government was not prepared to change course before the Christmas holidays, Labour would ensure the issue returned to the floor of the Commons.

She wrote: “There is still time to change approach, but the Government must act quickly. If you change your policy now, we can ensure that no child goes to bed hungry on Christmas Day,” she wrote.

“Labour will not give up on the fight to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry, and if you do not change course we will bring this issue back to the House of Commons before Christmas.”

Labour said it would prevent over a million children going hungry.

Ministers have insisted that they will not back down on the issue, arguing that children in need can be helped more effectively through more targeted measures.

The Government has already been forced to make one U-turn on the issue over the summer as a result of Rashford’s campaigning.

Five Conservative MPs rebelled to support the Labour motion on Wednesday.

A No.10 spokesman said: “This Government has expanded eligibility for free school meals to more children than any other in decades.

“We have provided free school meals when schools were partially closed, increasing welfare support by £9.3 billion, and giving councils £63 million for families facing financial difficulties.

“We also provided vouchers through the Covid summer food fund, in addition to the holiday activities and food programme.”



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