Westcountry MP’s face backlash over free school meals

From today’s Western Morning News:

Conservative MPs in the Westcountry have faced a backlash after voting not to extend free school meals over the half-term holiday.

A Labour motion, inspired by England footballer Marcus Rashford, to provide free school meals during the school holidays until Easter 2021 was voted down last week by 322 votes to 261. Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, was one of only five to defy her party and stood alone among Westcountry Tories supporting the motion.

Following the vote a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants have offered to help struggling families by donating free meals to children in need over half-term and pressure has been mounting on Boris Johnson to do a U-turn.

More than 2,000 paediatricians have signed a letter urging the Prime Minister to extend free meals, saying childhood hunger should “transcend politics”.

Now, a number of Westcountry Conservative MPs have been challenged over their stance.

A petition has been set up calling for North Devon MP Selaine Saxby to resign after comments made following the vote, which she argues were taken out of context. Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay, has been told by three cafes and pubs he is not welcome, and has justified voting against the Labour motion saying the issue needs to be tackled through the welfare system, with the Government already providing extra funding. And Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer has hit back after coming under fire on social media, but admitted the issue had been ‘poorly handled’ by Government.

Hospitality businesses showing they ‘stand with Rashford, not the 322’ include the Castle Beach Cafe where owner Fiona Crump is making free lunch bags during half term this week for any child who would normally get a free school lunch.

Other cafes who have agreed to supply free food to children who might otherwise miss out during the holidays include the Pavilion Street Kitchen and the Count House Cafe, both in Cornwall, and Swiss Cottage Care in Ilfracombe and the Gingerbread House cafe in Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

Marcus Rashford, who himself relied on free school meals while growing up, said he was “blown away” by the offers of support, and has been retweeting businesses offering free meals. “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know,” the Manchester United footballer tweeted.

A number of councils in England have said they will offer free school meals for children.

Plymouth City Council has set up a support scheme for families of children entitled to free school meals during this October half-term. The scheme, for around 9,000 children, will see families receiving £11 – equivalent to £2.20 per day – into their nominated bank account.

Cornwall Council leader Cllr Julian German and Cllr Sally Hawken, portfolio holder for children, have applauded Cornwall’s businesses and community groups for rallying to offer free meals to those in need as part of the campaign to end child food poverty, including the Castle Beach Cafe, Ann’s Pasties in Helston and Rosie’s Kitchen in Bude.

Cornwall Council figures show that 13,000 children are currently accessing the free school meals scheme. Since 2018 Cornwall Council has a run a summer programme called ‘Filling the Holiday Gap’, which provides small grants to community groups and volunteer organisations to offer activities and food for children and young people in the greatest need.

Cllr Hawken said: “This year the Council will be providing a scheme to support all those receiving Free School Meals for the Christmas holidays.”