It has been a busy weekend for Marcus Rashford, whose call to action has seen thousands from across the country come together to provide children with free meals over the half term. The rallying of charities, businesses, councils and the public generally has been truly amazing – emphasising that the Tory vote to reject free school meals last week does not reflect national feeling. In response, Conservative MPs have spent the weekend showing just how callous a Tory can be. One demonised working-class families by likening free school meals to a direct payment to crack dens and brothels, and another said she “very much” hopes the businesses helping out “will not be seeking any further government support” in the pandemic.
Labour is not giving up the fight. Kate Green slammed the “dangerous and stigmatising rhetoric” used by Conservative MPs in a letter to the Education Secretary, calling on him to “do the right thing”. She requested the government meet with Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce to discuss its proposals to end child poverty, and urged it to reverse its position on free school meals. Labour has pledged to force another vote in the Commons on the provision of free school meals over the holidays if the government does not change course ahead of the Christmas break. But questioned this morning, the Health Secretary argued that extra funding already being given to councils during Covid was enough.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has decided that now, just in the middle of a pandemic, is the right time to reinstate VAT on personal protective equipment. From November 1st, these items will cost 20% more. As Labour has pointed out, masks are currently mandatory in a range of settings and this will do nothing to encourage their widespread use. The party has estimated that for a family of four using disposable masks, it will mean paying an extra £94 over the next six months. A nice little Halloween gift from the Tories, dubbed a “mask tax” by Labour.
To watch out for this week is the ever-imminent Equality and Human Rights Commission report into antisemitism in the Labour Party. Labour received a draft of the document back in July and we have been expecting the report to come out at any point since then. But the organisation has now confirmed that the report will be published “shortly”. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.