Great Britain

Minister rejects Marcus Rashford meals plea on basis ‘children have been going hungry for years’

A Conservative minister has said “children have been going hungry for years” when he was asked why the government are opposing a campaign for free school meals over the school holidays.

MPs are preparing to vote on a Labour call to extend the provision of free school meals following a campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Responding to a question from early years shadow minister Tulip Siddiq during an appearance on BBC Politics Live, Paul Scully said: “We’ve had a situation where children have been going hungry under a Labour government for year.

“What we’ve done, we’ve put a universal credit system in place which allowed flexibility for people to go back to work and then topping up their incomes so they don’t have the cliff edge of the old benefits system that we saw under the previous Labour government,” said Mr Scully, minister for London and minister for small business. 

“So we have been starting to tackle those issues of the people that are at that point on the pay scale and making sure that their children can get fed.”

The presenter, Jo Coburn, then asks: “Paul, did you say ‘children have gone hungry for years’? Is that acceptable?”

Mr Scully then replies: "No, it’s not. Which is why I’m saying we’ve been looking at how we can help parents over the long term rather than the kind of situation that Tulip is sorting out.

“What can we do that is actually going to mean that the lowest paid can actually feed their children for weeks, months and years to come? That will be increasing the national living wage, that we’ve been doing, that will be introducing the flexible universal credit that allows them to top up and go back to work which is ultimately the best way of making sure that you can work with your children.”

Labour's motion calls for the free school meals scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021.

The party's analysis showed nearly one million children living in areas that are subject to tier 2 and tier 3 coronavirus restrictions are set to lose access to free school meals over the upcoming holidays.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: "This vote is about our values as a country and whether the government, in the middle of this crisis, is happy to let our children go hungry.

"Millions of families up and down the country are facing a bleak winter of real hardship as the furlough scheme is withdrawn and further restrictions are put in place without proper support for businesses, jobs and livelihoods."

A government spokesperson said: "We have been giving substantial support to families and children, by providing free school meals when schools were partially closed, increasing welfare support by £9.3bn, and giving councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties.

"We also provided vouchers through the Covid Summer Food Fund, in addition to the Holiday Activities and Food Programme.

"Now that the vast majority of pupils are back in school and over 99 per cent of schools have been open every week since term began, kitchens are able to provide healthy, nutritious meals to all children, including those eligible for free school meals."

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