Borough Conservative MPs vote against extending free school meals

Two politicians with constituencies wholly or partly in the borough voted against the Labour Party motion.
James Grundy and Chris Green opposed extending free school meansJames Grundy and Chris Green opposed extending free school means
James Grundy and Chris Green opposed extending free school means

Leigh MP James Grundy and his colleague Chris Green who represents Bolton West, a constituency including Atherton, voted no to the idea of extending free school meals over the holidays up to and including next year's Easter break.

This would have meant families receiving the same level of support they got over this year's summer break and involved disadvantaged children receiving a £15 a week food voucher.

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Vulnerable children were supported over the summer holidays following a high-profile campaign by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who forced the Government into a major policy U-turn.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Makerfield parliamentary representative Yvonne Fovargue both voted in favour of the motion to extend free school meals.

Just five Conservative MPs rebelled in order to support the motion.

The JPIMedia Data Unit, which put together information on the vote, also compiled figures on the level of deprivation in each constituency.

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Wigan came out as the hardest-hit of the borough's constituencies, with the 125th worst level of deprivation in England, followed by Mr Grundy's Leigh seat at 165 and Makerfield at 241.

The vote on extending the free school meals was lost by 322 votes to 261.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government would continue supporting children on low incomes and would use the benefits and income support systems to help young people during the school holidays.

Thousands of people in Wigan’s parliamentary constituencies had signed Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty.

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As of around 3pm on Tuesday, 2,326 people in Wigan’s four constituencies had urged the Government to provide more help to children at risk of going hungry.

It called for the free school meals to be extended to every child from a household on Universal Credit or an equivalent benefit.

It also said Healthy Start vouchers – given to eligible women who are pregnant or those with young children to buy basic foods – should be raised from £3.10 to £4.25 per week and made available to all those on Universal Credit or a similar benefit.

Across the UK, nearly 300,000 people signed the petition.

A Number 10 spokesman said last week it was “not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays”.

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In Wigan’s constituencies, 11,657 children were eligible for free school meals in the last school year, the latest Department for Education figures show.

Across England, around 1.4 million children had the right to claim.

But the Food Foundation think tank, which was working on the campaign with Rashford, estimated that nearly 1 million additional children have recently been registered for the scheme as Covid-19 drives more families into poverty.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that research from a holiday club pilot scheme showed parents prefer to pay a “modest amount” for children’s food at a holiday club rather than have the label of a free school meal.

He added: “We’ve put over £9bn into Universal Credit to help exactly those families that need that help, and we continue with the policy of holiday clubs.”