England football star Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals over the holidays was dealt a blow after MPs voted against the measure.
The Manchester United player urged politicians to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”
He released a statement after Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61.
Time we worked together. pic.twitter.com/xFPsgBiPQC
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 21, 2020
Downing Street ruled out performing a late U-turn ahead of the vote, with Boris Johnson also telling Prime Minister’s Questions: “We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so.
“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school.
“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”
Conservative backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) argued against Labour’s proposal by saying he did not believe in “nationalising children”.
He told the Commons: “And we must focus on breaking the cycle where the first reaction is to look to the state.
“It is a vicious circle, and we need to support families with early intervention and help with things such as budgeting and employment.
“The welfare state is rightly there as a safety net, but it is not however a replacement.
“Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?
“I do not believe in nationalising children.
“Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility, and this means less celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”
Tory David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) also said: “What does it say about the Opposition’s priorities that all of their interests are simply swept aside in favour of currying favour with wealth and power and celebrity status, spending taxpayers’ money to curry favour with celebrity status, wealth and power.
“Now I have no doubt that Mr Rashford is an expert in his own experience, but we should not forget that the experiences he so movingly described took place under a Labour government then supposedly at the peak of its powers in tackling child poverty in this country.”
Tory MP Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) said a food voucher scheme over the school holidays would only ever be a “sticking plaster” for tackling child poverty.
Tory minister Paul Scully also told the BBC that “children have been going hungry under a Labour government for years” and insisted the Government had been tackling the issue.
But Conservative Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, urged the Government to continue providing meals over the holidays while the coronavirus crisis was ongoing and called on ministers to work with Rashford.
Reacting to the vote, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families.
“No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the Government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.
“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue.
“This campaign is not over and the Government must reconsider.”