Fylde coast MPs give reasons why they didn't vote for Marcus Rashford's campaign for free school meals

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Footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for children to receive free school meals over the school holidays was rejected by MPs last night.

The Manchester United forward launched an online petition last week proposing the extension of free school meals for those on Universal Credit or equivalent across half terms and the Christmas holidays.

Although Rashford’s campaign during the summer was successful, and saw free school meals given to children over the summer holidays, his recent proposal was rejected by a majority.

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Labour's motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 - a majority of 61.

MPs voted last night in the House of Commons - Image: UK Parliament/Jessica TaylorMPs voted last night in the House of Commons - Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
MPs voted last night in the House of Commons - Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Blackpool South MP, Scott Benton, was one of those who voted against the extension, however, despite 322 of his Conservative colleagues voting against the proposed extension, Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said he was 'unable to support the Government' over the issue last night.

He said: "Whilst there were many, many flaws with what the Labour Party was proposing – not least that eligibility criteria for free school meals doesn’t always focus support on those who need it most – I do recognise the need to ensure financial support is targeted on those who need it most, and why I believe the £20 a week uplift the Government introduced that goes to all families on Universal Credit (a larger group than those on Free School Meals) is so important.

“I do believe we should have used the time we have already had as a Government during the pandemic to come up with a better proposal than the one before us.

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“I have strongly made the case to Ministers that a better approach is a universal summer holiday activity support scheme that tackles both holiday hunger and loss of educational attainment when away from school. These should be open to all, not just those who qualify for free school meals, and will ensure attainment during the school year is not lost.

"I know the Department for Education is keen to work towards this outcome. I believe this cannot come soon enough, and would be a long-lasting reform of far greater benefit than anything currently advocated.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies voted by proxy against the proposals. If MPs are unable to attend Parliament to vote they can apply to vote by proxy, which Mr Menzies did.

He said: “This Government extended the eligibility for free school meals to 50,000 more children than previous administrations.

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"Since the start of Coronavirus, I have voted for £9 billion of additional welfare funding for families including an increase of £1,000 for those on Universal Credit, increased housing allowance, a £180 million fund to help struggling families with rent, and a further £63 million for local authorities to use on welfare assistance. A good deal of those measures were opposed by Labour.

“School meals were extended through summer because children had not been in school since March and families faced those additional food costs. Some 99 per cent of those children are now back in school getting those free meals.

“All of these measures are there to help ensure families in need are looked after.”

Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace also didn't take part in the vote. Labour's Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, voted in favour of the extension.

Mr Benton and Mr Wallace were approached for comment.

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In a statement on Twitter following the vote, Rashford said, "Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let's focus on the reality.

"A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.

"We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation. This is not politics, this is humanity."

The footballer added, "For as long as they don't have a voice, they will have mine."