‘Heartless and cruel’ - Norfolk MPs free school meals extension vote criticised

James Wild, Duncan Baker and Jerome Mayhew are the new MPs for North West Norfolk, North Norfolk and

James Wild, Duncan Baker and Jerome Mayhew are the new MPs for North West Norfolk, North Norfolk and Broadland respectively. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Conservative MPs who voted down extending provision of free school meals to pupils during the holidays have been branded “heartless and cruel” by a Labour counterpart.

Graffiti at the bottom of Ketts Hill in Norwich. Photo: Robin Le Riche

Graffiti at the bottom of Ketts Hill in Norwich. Photo: Robin Le Riche - Credit: Archant

The majority of Norfolk’s MPs have voted against a motion to extend free school meals until next Easter.

A vote brought by the Labour Party was held in the House of Commons (HoC) on Wednesday, October 21, and was defeated by 322 votes to 261 - a majority of 61.

And Norfolk and Waveney’s Conservative MPs - the majority of whom joined colleagues in opposing the plan - were dubbed “heartless and cruel” by Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis.

READ MORE: Majority of Norfolk and Waveney MPs vote against free school meals extension

All of Suffolk's Conservative MPs voted against extending free school meals into the holidays. PHOTO

All of Suffolk's Conservative MPs voted against extending free school meals into the holidays. PHOTO: Archant - Credit: Archant

Mr Lewis said: “We’re heading into a second stage of this crisis which could have even more of an impact on families and children.

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He said the scheme would cost “a realistically small amount of money” and branded the refusal “heartless, cruel and calculated”.

He added: “It’s about making a political statement out of some of the most vulnerable children in our country.

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“There will be children in Norwich - as Marcus Rashford said - who will wake up today thinking ‘does my government even care about me?’.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman. Picture: Ian Burt

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

But Conservatives have hit back at a wave of criticism for voting the policy down, citing £9bn extra welfare payments and a further £63m for worst hit area’s councils.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: “I’m deeply concerned at both child and food poverty, which is why I’ve been so outspoken in supporting Marcus Rashford in the summer.

“Tackling food poverty is not simple and there are real issues with finding the right long term policy. I’m very uneasy with food vouchers redeemable only at certain shops for certain goods.

READ MORE: ‘He makes a powerful case’ - Norfolk MPs back Marcus Rashford free school meals campaign

“I welcome the government commitment to provide £9bn extra welfare payments and £60m extra for councils in hardest hit areas.”

He added: “We need a more integrated approach to tackle the complex issues at the heart of malnutrition and food poverty.”

While Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland, said: “I don’t believe schools turning into branches of the welfare state during holidays is the right way to do this.

“The best way to support low income families to feed their children is not by giving them food vouchers, which until now Labour have criticised as demeaning. It’s better to focus on family income, as in the increase of £20 a week to Universal Credit.”

James Wild, North West Norfolk MP, said: “Members on all benches in the HoC are committed to child poverty and ensuring that no child goes hungry.”

He said he worked with local schools to resolve issues with the voucher scheme earlier in the year, and added: “The issue is whether the best way to support low income families is to continue to provide vouchers indefinitely through school holidays; or if instead we should provide targeted support through the welfare system, rather than schools, outside of term time.

“Strengthening the welfare system is the better approach.”

READ MORE: Summer free school meal U-turn will benefit almost 14,000 in Norfolk

In a tweet, Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP, said: “Yesterday’s motion wasn’t a practical or long-term way to solve food poverty.

“We provide free school meals to 1.4m children, have put an extra £9bn into the welfare system, and £63m to help councils support the most vulnerable.”

And Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: “During the unprecedented time at the start of the pandemic, it was right that extraordinary measures on free school meals were taken.

“But now we are in a different position - with schools back open to all pupils - and it is not for schools to regularly provide food for pupils during the holidays.

“I am committed to ensuring young people have the support and opportunities to succeed for the future and will always support a safety for those who need it most.

“The safety net is there already.”

And Peter Aldous, Waveney MP, added: “The motion did not offer a long-term solution to the problem of child poverty and the government are taking steps to ensure that there is a responsive and effective welfare system that will enable families to manage their household budgets.

“Government has added over £9bn to the welfare system, increasing universal credit by £1,000 a year, increasing housing allowance and creating a £180m fund to help struggling families with their rent, creating a £62m fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance and awarding £16m to food charities.”

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss did not vote due to being in Japan for trade talks.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis and South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon were approached for comment.

READ MORE: Our fight to stop children going hungry during school holidays

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