Anneliese Dodds has called on the Chancellor to “come clean” about his role in the government’s refusal to extend free school meals over the school holidays after it was reported that his department blocked the move.
The Shadow Chancellor has made the demand in a letter to her government counterpart today after reports emerged over the weekend that Rishi Sunak had blocked the £22m per week needed for the free school meals extension.
Calling on the government to U-turn on the issue, Dodds has asked the Chancellor to clarify whether he played a role after sources close to Sunak said the Treasury was never asked for the funding.
Dodds said: “It’s unbelievable that this government would refuse to provide food to the country’s poorest children at the height of the pandemic. And now ministers are engaged in a desperate blame game rather than admitting they got this wrong and putting it right.
“The Chancellor should come clean about his role in this whole sorry affair. Parents wondering how they’re going to feed their children during the school holidays have a right to know.”
The Conservatives voted down, by a majority of 61, a Labour motion last week to extend free school meals over the holidays up to and including the Easter break next year. Just five Tories voted with Labour to support the motion.
Various Tory MPs have faced criticism for their reasons for voting against the proposal, including Ben Bradley who is appeared to link free school meal vouchers with giving money to “crack dens” and “brothels”.
The Shadow Chancellor also criticised Sunak on Monday after Labour analysis showed that the £157m overall cost of extending free school meals was almost the £150m spent on a private contract for “useless” face masks.
Rosena Allin-Khan confirmed on Sunday that the Labour Party would be seeking a second Commons vote on the extension to free school meals before the Christmas parliamentary recess.
“The Labour Party are not going to give up on our young people, on the children who are going to bed hungry,” she told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “We certainly will be pushing for a vote before Christmas.”
Below is the full text of the letter sent by Anneliese Dodds to the Chancellor.
Labour has called on the government to provide free school meals to all eligible children during all school holidays between now and Easter 2021. No child should be going hungry in the middle of a pandemic, yet you and 321 of your Conservative colleagues voted against that proposal. It has been inspiring to see local councils and businesses stepping in to fill the void left by your government, though of course, they shouldn’t have to.
Media coverage over the weekend suggested that the Treasury refused to approve the roughly £22m per week that this policy would cost. Media coverage since then suggests that in fact the Department of Education never asked for the funding. Parents who are wondering how they will feed their children during the Christmas and Easter holidays have a right to know what is going on.
So can you please confirm: did the Department for Education ask you for funding to cover free school meals provision in school holidays? If they did, why did you refuse? If they did not, would you approve such a request if it were to be made?
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer