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MPs vote against move to support Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League – Old Trafford
(Image credit: Oli Scarff)

England football star Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals over the holidays was dealt a blow after MPs voted against the measure.

The Manchester United forward urged politicians to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”

He released a statement after Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61.

Downing Street ruled out performing a late U-turn ahead of the vote, with Boris Johnson also telling Prime Minister’s Questions: “We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so.

“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school.

“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”

Rashford added that child food poverty “has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced”.

“We must start working together and unite to protect our most vulnerable children. No more sticking plasters. Let’s face this head on,” he said.

He said the requirements of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce remain the same, adding: “Following private and public approaches, I once again invite Number 10 to sit around the table with the taskforce so that, together, we can collaborate on how best to combat child poverty in the UK.”

Rashford continued: “I don’t have the education of a politician, many on Twitter have made that clear today, but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected.

“These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”

Conservative backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) argued against Labour’s proposal by saying he did not believe in “nationalising children”.

He told the Commons: “And we must focus on breaking the cycle where the first reaction is to look to the state.

“It is a vicious circle, and we need to support families with early intervention and help with things such as budgeting and employment.

“The welfare state is rightly there as a safety net, but it is not however a replacement.

“Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?

“I do not believe in nationalising children.

“Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility, and this means less celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

Conservative Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, urged the Government to continue providing meals over the holidays while the coronavirus crisis was ongoing and called on ministers to work with Rashford.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson continued to resist calls for a change of tack (House of Commons/PA)

Reacting to the vote, shadow education secretary Kate Green 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.”