Ministers claim there is “no money” for another extension to free school meals in England, but this is not a question of affordability. It is one of prioritiesby Rachel Sylvester / October 22, 2020 / Leave a comment
The England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford did not hold back on Wednesday night, after MPs voted down plans to extend free school meals in England over the half term and Christmas holidays. Children would go to bed “not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter”, he told his 3.5 million Twitter followers. “This is not politics, this is humanity.”
The next morning Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, suggested that his criticisms were “unfair”. The government was standing “shoulder to shoulder” with people on low incomes, he insisted on the Today programme. “What doesn’t help is for the motives of either side to be impugned. We think there’s a different way to help those people and our motivation is just as valid as his.”
That may be true but the government is so inconsistent and confused that it is hard to understand what is driving its decisions. Just four months ago ministers performed a U-turn and agreed to fund free school meals over the summer to the poorest pupils, so it is illogical not to extend the same provision now. Children who were hungry then will be just as ravenous over Christmas. In fact, an extra 900,000 pupils have applied for free school meals since the pandemic struck so the need is greater than ever.
Malthouse claimed that families should be relying on the welfare system to feed their children—but as Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Commons Education Committee who supported the Labour motion, told MPs: “If we acknowledge that children risk going hungry in term time by providing them with free school meals despite the provision of universal credit… we know that they risk going hungry in the holidays too.” Between January and September 2020, he said, the food bank in his Harlow constituency gave out 118 tonnes of food—nearly double the tonnage of last year—and nationally, 32 per cent of households have experienced a drop in income since late March.
Almost two million children have been affected by food insecurity in the same period, according to the Food Foundation, and 2 per cent of adults said they had skipped meals entirely. The…