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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
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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. 

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Back onto the ‘scum’ comment …

Another Tory MP has brought up the “scum” controversy in the House of Commons when asked about free school meals during holidays.

Jake Berry laid out the differing sides to the FSM debate, saying Labour thinks vouchers are best to tackle the issue, while the Conservatives opt for the welfare system and funding to local authorities. 

“I actually think the debate has been really unhelpful to be shouting scum at eachother in the House of Commons.”

It comes after Nicky Morgan’s comments here:

And in case you missed it, this is what the Tory MPs are talking about:

Angela Rayner apologises after calling Tory MP 'scum' in parliament

Labour deputy leader apologises for language she used in ‘heated debate’

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 10:10
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Open letter

More than 2,000 paediatricians have signed a letter urging Boris Johnson to extend free school meals to vulnerable children during the holidays - saying childhood hunger should "transcend politics".

Members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said they are shocked by the government's "refusal" to do so, and praised footballer Marcus Rashford for his "powerful campaigning" on the issue.

Read their letter here:

2200 paediatricians sign open letter to Prime Minister urging Government to extend free school meals to cover holidays

Thousands of members sign an open letter urging the UK Government to change course on free school meals during the holidays.

PA

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 10:36
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Weeky shop post-Brexit

Meanwhile in Brexit news, a major business group has warned the average weekly shop will become "much more expensive" as import costs for everyday items rise by as much as a third in the event of a no-deal.

Kate Devlin reports:

Weekly shop will become 'much more expensive' with no-deal Brexit

Households will be particularly hard hit at start of next year and into spring

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 10:54
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No U-turn, MP says

A Tory MP has said there will not be a U-turn over holiday free school meals in England.

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 11:03
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What’s happening in the rest of the UK?

Important to remember extending the free school meals scheme over holidays has been voted down in England.

Here’s what happening elsewhere in the UK:

Scotland

Free school meals in Scotland will be extended to cover upcoming holidays.

More than £10m will be given to local authorities to cover meals over the Christmas, February and Easter breaks.

Reimbursements will also be available for councils that have kept their projects running through the October holiday.

Wales

Free school meals will be provided during school holidays until Easter next year.

The Welsh government said £11m had been made available to ensure free school meal provisions over every school holiday until that date.

Northern Ireland

Families eligible for free school meals will receive £1.3m worth of payments in lieu during the two-week school closure that includes the traditional mid-term Halloween holiday.

PA

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 11:09
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Pressure from Labour

Labour is stepping up the pressure on the Government over free school meals, warning it will bring the issue back to the House of Commons if ministers do not relent in time for Christmas.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Boris Johnson to meet with the taskforce set up by footballer Marcus Rashford "as a matter of urgency" to discuss its proposals for ending child poverty.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, Ms Green said that if the government was not prepared to change course before the Christmas holidays, Labour would ensure the issue returned to the floor of the Commons.

Here’s Keir Starmer reiterating the point:

PA

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 11:29
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Local businesses step in

Marcus Rashford continues to share stories of businesses offering to feed children over half-term on Twitter. 

Over the past few days, his account has been one long list of restaurants, cafes and councils with plans to help.

Here are a few examples:

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 11:44
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‘Like something from Oliver Twist’

The children’s commissioner for England said some pretty powerful remarks over the free school meals debate today. 

Tom Batchelor has the full story:

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 11:56
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Barnier in London

Back to Brexit, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said a decision by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to stay on in London this week to continue talks on a post-Brexit trade deal is a "very good sign".

“I think there is a good chance that we can get a deal but I think it is for the EU to understand that it is for them to move as well,” he told The Andrew Marr Show. 

PA

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 12:10
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Pressure to U-turn

Several Tory MPs have expressed their doubts over the government’s position on free school heals over holidays, while Labour has vowed to bring the issue back to the House of Commons.

Tom Batchelor reports on mounting pressure to U-turn: 

Government under pressure from Tory MPs to reverse free school meals decision

Conservative minister and several senior backbenchers voice concern over policy

Zoe Tidman25 October 2020 12:30

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