Labour 'playing politics' with children over free school meals scheme - Dudley MP

A Black Country MP has accused Labour of "playing politics with Covid and vulnerable children" over the free school meals saga.

Marco Longhi
Marco Longhi

Tory MP Marco Longhi, of Dudley North, defended his decision in voting against a Labour Party motion to extend the voucher scheme, saying: "A lot of money wasn't reaching vulnerable children."

The motion followed a petition, launched by England striker Marcus Rashford, calling for the Government to provide free meals for vulnerable children during school holidays.

Many councils across the country - including Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Staffordshire - have since stepped in to provide vouchers or meals over half term, with dozens of local businesses also offering support.

Meanwhile protesters have stuck empty plates to the office windows of Wolverhampton South West MP Stuart Anderson, who also voted against the motion.

Mr Longhi told the Express & Star: "Labour have wanted to virtue signal and put the Tories into a bad corner and they have achieved that.

"But actually, what Labour have done is political expedience.

"Labour have played politics with Covid and with vulnerable children because they knew that vote would change nothing."

Earlier this year, Rashford successfully campaigned for the Government to keep funding meal vouchers for vulnerable children over the summer holidays.

The Government performed a U-turn on the issue 24 hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the footballer's plea.

Mr Longhi said he acknowledges that Rashford "means well" by his latest campaign but claimed the voucher scheme was drawing "a lot of complaints".

He said: "A lot of these kids will not be reached simply with some sort of voucher scheme when, unfortunately, you have parents who go and spend it on something else.

"What we want to do is to try and find a way to get to these children. The voucher scheme did reach some but it did not reach a lot. We had a lot of complaints about it.

"So why keep throwing good money after bad."

He said the Government has helped vulnerable families by providing people on Universal Credit with an extra £1,000.

But he added: "There are so many things the Government has introduced in the welfare state.

"My issue with this is a notion as to whether in future, do we move forward with a state that effectively feeds families and children throughout the year.

"Is that conceptually the right way to go? Some people might think it is. But show me another country where this happens.

"There is a level of accountability that families need to take on. It is about responsibility and family union.

"It's about reaching out to the children that desperately need support and we have tried the scheme.

"It hasn't worked well. Why would you do something exactly the same as before."

'We have done everything to help people'

Labour's motion was eventually defeated in the House of Commons by 322 against 261 meaning the scheme was not extended through to Christmas.

But the defeat prompted a response from businesses and councils, thanks to the efforts of Rashford, to provide free meals for children during half term, which began today.

Conservative MPs have argued that the response from councils was being funded by Government money already set aside.

But had Labour's motion been passed, Mr Longhi said: "Nothing would have happened because in order to change the law, you need a resolution of the whole house.

"When you need to enact something that involves spending extra money, you effectively need a change in the law. It needs to be a resolution of the whole house."

Asked how this differed with the scheme earlier this summer, Mr Longhi said: "The whole house ruled a motion that minsters were given extra powers to make decisions on emergency basis without running it past the full chamber."

He added: "If the Government was so spiteful, why did we agree to it in the first instance. They tried it out and it didn't really work well at all.

"I feel quite strongly about it because I know, as a Conservative, I have been made out to be some kind of monster.

"I fundraise hundreds of thousands of pounds for people who will never know that I have done that for them.

"And now I'm being made out to be some sort of horrible person when actually, we have done everything, this government has done everything to help people.

He added: "I agree that where local councils have chosen to use Government money, that has been given to them, to target these children, which they believe is the right thing to do, then the local approach the government has taken is the right one.

"We think councils and local people and support groups have got more local intelligence about where the real need is, and that is what we are trying to do, target the money there."

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