Written by Ella Johnson
As schools enter October half term, 1.4 million disadvantaged children in the UK who would usually receive Free School Meals will not be receiving food vouchers as a result of the House of Commons vote this week.
After England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford led a brilliantly successful campaign to have school children continue to receive support during the six-week summer holidays this year, he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Honours List and was thanked by Boris Johnson, who stated in a televised briefing back in June, that he was “right to draw attention to this issue”. Yet, this week’s vote saw 322 MPs – including Mr Johnson himself – vote against the motion to extend this further outside of term time. As a direct result, thousands of children will go hungry this week. Thousands of families will face the dilemma of paying their rent or putting food on the table. This is the reality that out-of-touch MPs choose to turn a blind eye to.
As I scrolled through Twitter this morning (Friday 23rd), my timeline was covered with Rashford’s promotion of local businesses pledging to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half term. Make no mistake, I believe Marcus Rashford is an absolute credit to his family, profession and country, but it should not be the responsibility of a 22-year-old footballer to care about children in poverty going hungry. The unbelievable generosity of local business owners up and down the country who have stepped up to provide lunches for deprived children out of their pocket this week (when most fall into the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and are already struggling to stay afloat) is a bittersweet sight. The selflessness and kindness of small, independent cafes packing lunches to discreetly give to families in need only further highlights the failures and downright callousness of this government.
When reading further into this vote, I noticed that media coverage mentioned only the ‘322 MPs’ who denied the motion. Let us be clear – these were 321 Conservative Members of Parliament with one Independent MP. The very same Tory government which has handled the COVID-19 pandemic appallingly have now voted against providing the most vulnerable families in the country with the lifeline they need to keep their children fed. It is my understanding that Members of Parliament are elected to serve and represent the needs and beliefs of their constituents. I do not believe that a single one of those 322 MPs truly cares about the needs of their constituents. In fact, the utter irony that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford, were among these MPs says, I think, all you need to know about the priorities of some of those elected.
The age-old comment of ‘there isn’t a bottomless pit of money’ will, I’m sure, be the number one argument in favour of this disgusting parliamentary decision. Funnily enough, I agree with this sentiment. The economy is certainly suffering and I am well aware that public funds are not infinite. My question is, why on earth were MPs proposed a £3,000 pay rise this month while millions of ordinary people suffer economic turmoil across the country? Why did £2.6million of taxpayer’s money go to subsidising meals and alcohol in the Commons last year? If the government genuinely cannot afford to tackle child food poverty, why are MPs given a £25 daily food expenses limit while some of their constituents have less than £25 to spend on a weekly shop?
Concerns rise even more so when we look to the upcoming Christmas holidays. Already set to be a devastating winter due to COVID-19, the needs of low-income families become even greater. Demand for food banks this winter are predicted to be 61% higher than last year, and with food banks already suffering shortages, the two week holiday period where children cannot claim food vouchers will be detrimental.
Child food poverty is absolutely unacceptable. Free School Meals are not a luxury; feeding children should never be up for political discourse. It sickens me that this issue is one that would even require a vote, and that ‘no child should go hungry’ would ever be a controversial statement. Children’s access to sufficient food is a basic human right which our government is choosing not to provide.
To those 322 MPs, I would say this: Children have absolutely no control over the life they were born into and the circumstances of their families. How exactly do you sleep at night knowing that you failed the impoverished families that you were elected to protect?
Ella Johnson is a final year English student with a passion for health & wellbeing, politics and literature. She also acts as Lifestyle Chief Editor and the 20/21 Secretary for Leicester Student Magazine. You can find her on Instagram here: @ellasophiejohnson