Angela Rayner has said Boris Johnson and his government should be “ashamed of themselves” for letting children go hungry after Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed that the intervention in the UK by Unicef is a “political stunt”.
The UN agency announced on Wednesday that it would, for the first time in its more than 70-year history, take action in the UK as it pledged a grant of £25,000 to the School Food Matters project to supply breakfasts to children over the holidays.
Rees-Mogg described the action from the UN agency in parliament this morning as a “real scandal” and a “political stunt”, accusing the organisation of “playing politics”. He added: “Unicef should be ashamed of itself.”
Labour’s deputy leader slammed the comments by the House of Commons leader, saying: “The only people who should be ashamed of themselves are Boris Johnson and the rest of his government for letting our children go hungry.
“In one of the richest countries in the world, our children should not be forced to rely on a charity that usually works in war zones and in response to humanitarian disasters.
“The only scandal here is this rotten Tory government leaving 4.2 million children living in poverty, a number that will only rise due to the coronavirus crisis.”
Rees-Mogg had been responding to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Zarah Sultana. Addressing MPs this morning, Sultana had told the minister: “While children go hungry, a wealthy few enjoy obscene riches.
“From Tory donors handed billions in dodgy contracts to people like the Leader of the House, who is reportedly in line to receive an £800,000 dividend payout this year.”
She asked: “Will [he] give government time to discuss the need to make him and his super-rich chums pay their fair share so that we can end the grotesque inequality that scars our society?”
Commenting on the response from Rees-Mogg, Sultana described the comments from the government minister as “disgusting” and tweeted: “It’s shameful for kids to go hungry. It’s not shameful to feed them.”
School Food Matters will use the money provided by Unicef to supply 18,000 nutritious breakfasts to 25 schools over the two-week Christmas holiday break and February half-term in the London borough of Southwark.
Founder and chief executive of the community project Stephanie Slater commented: “We’re so grateful to Unicef for providing this timely funding.
“The response to our summer breakfast boxes programme has shown us that families are really struggling and many were facing the grim reality of a two-week winter break without access to free school meals and the indignity of having to rely on food banks to feed their children.”
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by the charity Food Foundation found 2.4 million children – 17% – were living in food insecure households. An extra 900,000 children had been registered for free school meals by October.
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green described child poverty as a “pandemic of its own” earlier this year when the government rejected a motion from the Labour Party to extend free school meals over school holidays.
The Welsh Labour government announced in October this year that it would spend £11m to make sure free school meals are provided during every school holiday up to and including the Easter break in 2021.
Labour leader Keir Starmer highlighted in parliament recently that while Johnson refused to allocate £20m to fund free school meals for children over the October half term he paid £21m to a single business consultant.