Great Britain

Millions wasted by government on useless PPE could have paid for free school meals, Labour says

Millions of pounds wasted by the government on useless protective equipment could have covered the cost of extending free school meals over the Christmas and Easter holidays, Labour has said

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, said the government "didn't bat an eyelid" over the £150 million cost of the unusable masks, but was now refusing to spend a similar amount of money preventing food poverty during the pandemic.

It comes as Boris Johnson defended his refusal to provide the extra lunches, saying he was "very proud" of the government's approach.

In August it was revealed that the NHS had deemed supplies of 50 million medical masks, procured under a contract with Ayanda Capital in April, unsafe, as they used the wrong kind of straps.

As the row over free school lunches rages on, Labour has estimated that it would cost around £157 to extend the meals every eligible child in the country until the end of the Easter holidays next year.

The party says the misspend illustrates the government's incompetence.

“The Chancellor didn’t bat an eyelid when millions of pounds of public money were wasted on PPE that couldn’t be used," Ms Dodds said.

“Yet when it comes to keeping kids fed this Christmas, he has nothing to offer but humbug.

“This Chancellor has got his priorities wrong. He won’t budge on a circuit breaker that could save lives and livelihoods. He’s waited to the last possible minute to deliver additional economic support for areas under local restrictions. Now he’s letting kids go hungry at Christmas.

“He’s not helping out – he’s standing in the way.”

A petition created by England footballer Marcus Rashford calling on the government to reverse the decision has gained more than 900,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Only children in England who will miss out, because Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all introduced food voucher schemes.

But the prime minister said a £20 a week increase in Universal Credit was more than enough to prevent food poverty.

"We don't want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this government - and you are not going to see that," he said.

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