PM resists calls to extend free school meals despite mounting pressure

Sienna Rodgers
© HASPhotos/Shutterstock.com
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Labour launched a ‘Holidays Without Hunger’ campaign over the weekend, with a petition demanding that the government continues funding free school meals during the summer. We know that food poverty has been exacerbated in the coronavirus crisis, and the voucher scheme did not operate smoothly – but it was essential, including when it covered the May half-term. However, while the Welsh government has announced that it will provide each eligible child with the equivalent of £19.50 a week over the summer, the UK Tories are resisting calls to do the same.

They are putting up a fight even against footballer Marcus Rashford, who wrote a brilliant open letter to all MPs that read: “Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”. He has 2.7 million followers on Twitter, but still Downing Street has not backed down. Government minister Therese Coffey even replied to one of his tweets this morning to say: “Water cannot be disconnected though”. No effort is being made to disguise the nasty party – in fact they seem to be defending that image at significant political cost.

Labour’s first opposition day debate with Keir Starmer as leader is being used to apply further pressure on this issue. Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey will say that not making a U-turn here would be “deeply callous”. It is understood that the Conservatives do plan to push this to a vote, and the Prime Minister has even made the wonderfully patronising move of tabling an amendment that welcomes alternative action being taken by the government. As the inboxes of MPs fill up with protest, will this position hold?

The blockage appears to be the Treasury – as you would expect, though it does seem odd to expend so much political capital on something that would cost an extra £30m while billions are being spent on furlough schemes. As usual, this is about setting a precedent and building a narrative: ‘don’t get used to the state helping you out’, the Tories are telling us, even if this is an exceptional crisis. This has been identified as a good moment for Labour’s other main intervention today: Anneliese Dodds is calling for an emergency ‘back to work budget’ with a clear focus on ”jobs, jobs, jobs”. Trade unions have played a crucial role in forcing the government to make huge economic interventions, and the demands of the labour movement are more important than ever.

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