As it happenedended1603657478

School meals: Government has ‘misunderstood’ public mood, senior Tory says, as children’s commissioner compares debate to ‘Oliver Twist’

Follow the day’s events as they happen

Zoe Tidman,Peter Stubley
Sunday 25 October 2020 20:24 GMT
Children's commissioner Anne Longfield slams 'Oliver Twist'-style debate over free school meals

A senior Tory has said the government "misunderstood" the public mood over extending the free school meals scheme over holidays, amid mounting pressure for a U-turn on the issue.

Sir Bernard Jenkin and other Conservative MPs have added their voices to the increasing calls for a rethink after a vote last week rejected a bid to extend provision over the school holidays.

Labour has vowed to bring the issue back to the House of Commons in the absence of a U-turn before Christmas.

Meanwhile, the children’s commissioner for England has slammed the debate by comparing it to Oliver Twist.

Anne Longfield said she had been "horrified" by the recent debate over the extension of food vouchers for vulnerable children.

“We're a wealthy country, it's 2020,” she said. "To have a debate about whether we should make sure that hungry and vulnerable children have enough to eat is something that is strikingly similar to something we'd expect to see in chapters of Oliver Twist – a novel published in the 19th century.”

Hundreds of businesses and councils have announced that they will feed hungry pupils this week, supporting a campaign started by the England footballer Marcus Rashford. 


Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of events in UK politics. 

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 08:52

Calls for U-turn

Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure to perform a U-turn over free schools meals in time for Christmas

Kate Devlin has more on calls from Labour and some backbench Tory MPs:

Boris Johnson under increasing pressure to U-turn on free schools meals in time for Christmas

Meanwhile, Conservative MP defends ‘crack den’ tweet about meal vouchers

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 08:53

‘I think we have taken the right position’

A Tory MP has defended the government’s stance against providing free school meals during the holidays. 

“I think the position we have taken is the right position,” Brandon Lewis told Sky’s Sophy Ride on Sunday

"What we are looking to do is ensure deal with child poverty at the core and put the structure in place that means even in school holidays children can get access to the food they need."

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:02

‘Morally reprehensible’

A Labour MP has said it was “deeply saddening” that hundreds of Tory MPs took the “morally reprehensible” position to vote against providing free school meals to poor children over the holidays. 

Rosena Allin-Khan said Labour hopes the Tory government will “dig deep” and “look introspectively”, and perform a U-turn on the issue. 

However, she said Labour will be pushing for another vote if not. 

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:10

Rashford’s petition

As well as Labour putting pressure on the government, hundreds of thousands of people have signed Marcus Rashford’s petition calling for more action against child food poverty.

The number of signatures passed 800,000 this morning. 

The petition calls for expanded access to free school meals, and meals to be provided during holidays.

Petition: End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry

Government should support vulnerable children & #endchildfoodpoverty by implementing 3 recommendations from the National Food Strategy to expand access to Free School Meals, provide meals & activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger & increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:16

Here’s Keir Starmer on Labour’s position:

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:25

‘Horrified by debate’ 

The children’s commissioner for England said she has been “horrified” by the debate over free school meals during holidays.

“I’ve been … really disappointed about the debate over recent days,” she said.

“We’re a wealthy country. it’s 2020,” she told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. 

“To have a debate about whether we should make sure hungry and vulnerable children should have enough to eat is strikingly similar to chapters - I think - of we would expect see in Oliver Twist, a novel published in the 19th century.”

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:30

‘Deepy disrespectful’

Anne Longfield also called a Tory MP’s tweet over summer’s free school meals vouchers "deeply disrespectful".

Ben Bradley has been heavily criticised for his now-deleted tweet:

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:46

Here is Tory MP Brandon Lewis’ interview defending the government’s stance on free school meals during holidays: 

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:48

‘The government will probably have to think again’

A senior Tory MP has said the government had "misunderstood" the mood of the country over free school meals and urged ministers to think again.

"The public want to see the Government taking a national lead on this. I think the government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there's going to be more votes in the House of Commons," Sir Bernard Jenkin said

“When you have got the chairman of the Education Select Committee not supporting the government on this - and he's a Conservative - I think that the government has to listen to the Conservative Party,” he said. 


Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 09:55

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