Bedford Borough’s MPs have spoken of their decision to vote for or against a Labour motion to offer frees school meals during holidays until Easter 2021.
Labour MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin voted in favour of the motion.
Both Conservative MPs, Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) and Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) voted against the motion, which was rejected by 322 votes to 261.
“To vote against ensuring that poor children don’t go hungry during the school holidays in a national crisis is cruel, spiteful and indefensible,” said Mr Yasin.
“1.4 million children have faced real hunger in the last 6 months in Britain, one of the wealthiest countries in the world is a horrifying state of affairs.”
However, Mr Fuller defended his vote against the motion and criticised ‘fake news’ about the vote.
“Wednesday’s vote was not a vote to end free school meals,” he said. “There has been much misinformation about this. The vote was a Labour Party motion to extend free school meals to school holidays.
“During the pandemic, the Government extended free school meals support when schools were partially closed. But with 99% of schools now open, free school meals continue to be delivered to 1.4 million children in school.
“It has never been the case, under any government, that free school meals were provided during school holidays until earlier this year when £380 million was made available through a voucher scheme redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards.”
Ms Dorries also added her thoughts on the motion and highlighted Government increases in benefits to families in need.
“To help families struggling because of the pandemic the Government has increased Universal Credit, provided funding to councils for emergency food assistance and allocated £63 million for families in hardship,” said Ms Dorries.
“The national voucher scheme has already seen over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards.
“The priority for the Government has to be making sure children have enough to eat at home, not opening schools during the holidays to provide food there.”
Even so, the rejection of the motion spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford has been heavily criticised. Rashford posted of his “despair” at the result of the vote.
“Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics, and let’s focus on the reality. A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Our views are being clouded by political affiliation,” he added. “This is not politics, this is humanity…”
FACES Bedford extends lunchbox scheme
Since the vote, local charity FACES Bedford, have said they will be providing free lunches to children from 26 October to 30 October.
In posts on their Facebook page, they said: “Bedford Borough has over 10,000 children living in poverty. FACES will be tackling holiday hunger next week.
“For those who wish to donate you can do so on our local giving page localgiving.org/charity/faces. If you’re unable to donate, you can still help us by simply sharing our post, this will help us reach as many families as possible.”
Mohammad Yasin MP congratulated local efforts to help those in need. He said: “To the news of I’m just so proud that the people of Bedford agree and have been so generous in donating to our local food charities.
“Whatever our political beliefs, we can all agree that children should never feel the pain of hunger.”
Meanwhile, Richard Fuller highlighted other areas the Government has supported people during the pandemic and that he believed the best way to support families all year round is through Universal Credit.
“The Government has targeted support for children and their parents through a wide range of other measures. Universal Credit was increased by £1,040 per year,” he said.
“Councils have been funded to provide emergency food assistance and were allocated £63 million for families in hardship for food and other essentials.
“There was also a £9 million summer holiday activities and food programme which ran over the summer, offering activities and meals to thousands of disadvantaged children.”