THE CONSERVATIVE controlled House of Commons last night voted against Labour’s motion to extend free school meals over school holidays until Easter 2021.
The motion was defeated by 322 votes to 261 – a majority of 61 – on Wednesday with East Lancashire MPs split along party lines on the issues.
The bid came about as a result of a campaign by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.
The star striker 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.”
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.”
According to Labour Party research, nearly 900,000 children in coronavirus hotspots will miss out on free school meals unless the Government extends the scheme.
Around 61% of the over 1.4 million children eligible for free school meals are living in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas, according to House of Commons Library figures.
Labour MPs had been instructed to vote in favour of the motion, despite having previously been told to abstain on other controversial pieces of government legislation.
As such, Blackburn Labour MP Kate Hollern was the only East Lancashire MP to vote in favour free school meals.
However, all East Lancashire’s Conservative MPs voted against the motion.
Jake Berry, MP for Darwen and Rossendale
Sara Britcliffe, MP for Hyndburn
Anthony Higginbotham, MP for Burnley
Andrew Stephenson, MP for Pendle
As Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans is exempt from voting.
In a statement explaining his decision, Mr Higginbotham said:
“I did not vote to end free school meals, or for children to go hungry, I voted to ensure support got to those children in our borough who need it and for a long-term solution to holiday hunger.
“Everything I have done and will continue to do in Parliament is about supporting our borough.”
Meanwhile, five Conservatives, Caroline Ansell, Robert Halfon, Jason McCartney, Anne Marie Morris and Holly Mumby-Croft voted with the opposition.
Speaking about members who rejected the motion, Mrs Hollern said: “Shame on them, the same people who voted against an extension of the furlough scheme, families and businesses in Lancashire deserve better.”
She added: “More families than ever are struggling, that’s why I voted to extend the free school meals over the holidays.”
Child Poverty Action Group chief executive, Alison Garnham also condemned the move.
She said: “We’ve reached a low point if, in the midst of a pandemic, we decide we can’t make sure children in the lowest income families have a nutritious meal in the middle of the day”.
“Tonight’s vote means more children going without and more desperately anxious parents, just as a coronavirus winter approaches.
“In short it ducks our moral responsibility to protect the country’s most vulnerable children.
“It will not sit well with all those people from many walks of life who back Marcus Rashford because they do not want child poverty to be ignored any longer.”