Free school meals: Derbyshire MPs explain why they refused to support Marcus Rashford’s campaign
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The UK Government extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays earlier this year and, after a high-profile campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, did the same for the summer break.
However, a Labour motion on providing 1.4million disadvantaged children in England with £15-a-week food vouchers during the October half-term until Easter 2021 was defeated by 322 votes to 261 in the House of Commons last week – sparking a wave of anger.
Tory MPs across Derbyshire have now had their say on the issue.
Nigel Mills, MP for Amber Valley, said: “Supporting vulnerable children, families and individuals has been at the heart of all I have done at this challenging time, and contrary to what some people have been saying, I have not voted to take free school meals from children.
“The best way to support families and children is through the welfare system, not through providing supermarket vouchers.
“This ensures that support is reliably delivered to those who need it most, when they need it most and in a way which allows families to spend it in the way which will help them best.
“The welfare system is set up to provide this direct support all the year round in a way in which schools are not.”
Robert Largan, High Peak MP, said: “I met with the Education Secretary to discuss the need for a long-term solution to provide more support for the most vulnerable children during school holidays and made it clear that if we were ever forced into another full lockdown – and I sincerely hope that we do not have to do so – then I believe the free school meal voucher scheme would need to be reintroduced immediately.”
Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire, said: “Marcus Rashford himself said that we shouldn’t just have a sticking plaster.
“I agree – free school meals have never been designed to help children through the holidays.
"Let’s stop having votes designed solely to embarrass – and which achieve nothing – and recognise that the best way to support people is through the welfare system.”
Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales’ MP, said: “Labour’s motion was designed to cause division in our society.
“Our most vulnerable children and families are still being supported and will continue to be – Universal Credit, which we have increased by £1,000 for families this year, provides support to families all year round.”
Maggie Throup, MP for Erewash, said: “The Government is determined to support the most vulnerable in society, children and adults alike.
“Free school meals are a very blunt instrument and there are far better and effective mechanisms to ensure those who need the help, get it.”
She added that Derbyshire County Council has been allocated over £808,000 by the Government to help families who need extra support.
Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire, and Mark Fletcher, MP for Bolsover, had not responded to our requests for comment at the time of publication.
Many businesses and community organisations are now offering meals to those in need – visit schoolmealfinder.org for more information.