Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew has issued a statement on social media detailing why he rejected free school meals for children over the holidays.
Mr Andrew, who is Conservative Deputy Chief Whip, voted against a House of Commons motion in which, if approved, would have seen free school meals for kids extended through the holidays.
The vote followed a campaign by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.
Amid growing outrage over the government’s refusal to extend free school meals in England next week, Mr Andrew today issued a lengthy statement on his Facebook page, explaining his position. The statement in full reads:
“First and foremost, this is an important issue for me, not least because I spent a lot of my time at school on free school meals, so I find it hard when the opposition try to make out I don’t care and that Conservative Members of Parliament want children to starve. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“That is why I voted for the amendment that underlined our determination to do as much possible to help, especially the most vulnerable. The measures include:
• Extending the eligibility for free school meals to a further 50,000 children.
• Expanded programmes like Breakfast Clubs to ensure a good start to the day.
• For the last 3 years spent £9 million on the “Holiday Activities and Food Program”, supporting 50,000 of the most deprived children during the summer.
• Designing the ground-breaking Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with 9.6 million workers furloughed, backed with £39.3 billion by HM Treasury.
• Helping 2.7 million self-employed people, backed with £7.8 billion by HM Treasury. This has benefited 4,900 self-employed people across Pudsey.
• Added over £9billion to the welfare system. This has allowed us to:-* Increase Universal Credit by over £1,000 a year * Increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180m fund to help struggling families with their rent * Award £16m to food charities* Create a £63m fund for council’s to use to assist with local welfare. This latter fund saw Leeds receive over £1m, which helped to better target support to the most vulnerable.
As a Government, we provided Free School Meal vouchers over the summer because schools had been closed since March and families had been covering the costs.
This Autumn, it is different as schools have reopened and meals are being provided in term time.
The issue with the vouchers also highlighted that some of the children most in need still did not get the nutritious food they needed, and that is why the £63million fund is a better way of targeting support.
It is also important to note that we have about £2.7 billion in unclaimed benefits, meaning 700k families were missing out on up to £270 per month. In an attempt to deal with the complexities with applying for benefits, we have rolled them into one simpler system so people get what they are entitled to and have provided £40 million to the Citizens Advice Service in the ‘Help to Claim’ scheme.
Of course, Labour have deliberately tried to make out that we are doing nothing, but I would say this:
– We extended free school meal through the Summer, Labour never did during the financial crash.
– We have added £9bn to welfare support, much more than Labour did during the financial crash, when unemployment soared.
– We introduced a comprehensive furlough scheme to protect incomes and save jobs. Labour never did this in the financial crash, instead they simply stood by and allowed jobs to go and people to be made unemployed.
“This vote would not have delivered free school meals as it was a non-binding and politically motivated Opposition Day Debate.
“Whilst I understand the attempt to score political points, I find it hard to take lectures from the Opposition when we are taking specific, targeted action in addition to increased family financial support and when I know what it is actually like to be on free school meals.
“This is an important area of work and one I care deeply, about but I want a long term solution – not the short fix they proposed. It also begs the question, if our amendment was so bad, why didn’t the Labour Party vote against our motion?”
Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves yesterday described the outcome of the vote as ‘shameful’.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families.
“No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the Government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.
“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue. This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”