All six of Cornwall’s Conservative MPs voted against a motion put forward by the Labour Party on Wednesday night calling for free school meals to be extended into half term and the Christmas school holidays - and now they have explained why.

The motion had been inspired by calls led by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who has been leading a campaign to improve access to free school meals for children.

Rashford himself relied on free school meals while growing up and has been urging the government to extend the offer during school holidays, particularly with families being hit financially by the coronavirus crisis.

A similar campaign earlier this year saw the government perform a U-turn and extend support over the summer.

But on Wednesday all six of Cornwall’s MPs voted against the motion helping to defeat it. Now they have explained why.

Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay, said: “There is no debate about whether we need to support families during this time. The Labour motion was about how to support them. I do not believe extending free school meals is the right or best way to do this.

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“The Government has taken significant steps to provide unprecedented support in this pandemic, including an £9.3 billion injection to our welfare system and a £63 million hardship fund for Local Authorities. This approach has helped ensure families in Cornwall and across the UK can access vital support and services, without taking the responsibility of care away from parents.

“We extended free school meals over the summer as most children had not been in school since March and families have had to pay the extra cost.

“Since then, schools have reopened and the vast majority of children are now back in school, benefiting from free school meals during the school term as before.

“I fully agree that we need to help families that are struggling under the present circumstances. But I disagree with Labour’s approach, which would create another state dependency mechanism and further discourage any sense of individual responsibility. The right way to provide support to families at this time is through an effective and targeted welfare system, that enables parents to budget to feed their own children, not giving them handouts.”

Falmouth Packet:

Steve Double

George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: “Free school meals have always been a term-time provision, and there are other ways of  providing support throughout the year. FareShare was one of the recipients of a £16m frontline charities grant from Defra earlier this year. This enabled them to provide millions of meals to the most vulnerable in our society.

“We have provided £9.3 billion of additional welfare support to help those most in need, and £63 million in additional funding for councils to help those struggling to afford food and other essentials. We have taken steps to overcome barriers to the redistribution of surplus food. We also provided vouchers through the Covid Summer Food Fund, in addition to healthy meals and activities to around 50,000 children this summer.

“The vast majority of children are now back in school, with over 99 per cent of schools open every week since term began. Schools kitchens are providing healthy, nutritious meals to all children, including those eligible for free school meals.”

Falmouth Packet:

George Eustice

Cherilyn Mackrory, MP for Truro and Falmouth, commented: “The vote on the free school meals on Wednesday was a motion from an opposition day debate. Opposition day debates are useful for the opposition to press the government and hold them to account on important issues, but the votes do not become law even if they pass.

“Firstly, I am a mum. Nothing is more important to me than the health and well-being of our children.

“I voted against the motion because the government already has significant measures in place to support vulnerable families. It might be helpful if I explain this further.

“The best way of ensuring that families are supported financially is by ensuring that we have a welfare system that works for everyone in this country.  It is not right for schools or the education system to become part of the welfare state in the way that this motion demanded. The welfare state is there to protect families, the education system is there to educate our children.

“What we need to be doing, therefore, is ensuring that parents have enough support from the welfare state in order to be able to support their children throughout the school holidays, when they are at home and away from education.

“£9.3 billion of additional welfare payments have been given during the pandemic on top of £53 billion in job support packages (Furlough, SEISS to name a couple).

“Eligible families have also been supported throughout lockdown through the receipt of meal vouchers worth £380 million while schools were partially closed, alongside the Holiday Activities and Food Fund.

Falmouth Packet:

Cherilyn Mackrory

“Over the last few months the government has targeted welfare support at those on low incomes, which includes increasing universal credit and working tax credit by up to £1,040 for this financial year. This will benefit more than four million households. Those who are eligible for free school meals include those who are on Universal Credit. The government have also provided an additional £63 million in welfare assistance funding for local authorities to support families with urgent needs, including over the October half-term.

“I want to be absolutely clear that my vote yesterday, as a mum and a constituency MP representing thousands of families, was not a vote to ‘starve our children’, as some have accused me of.  If that was the case, then I would absolutely not have voted in the way that I did. But it simply was not the case.  Therefore, I voted the way I did for the reasons stated above.

“Free school meals have never been provided to families during school holidays, indeed it was this Conservative Government that set that precedent earlier this year, during the summer holidays, because of the exceptional circumstances the whole country was facing. No Labour Government has ever provided this for our children, nor did Labour ever support families the way this government is.

“Help and support is always available to those who need it and I am more than happy to help those in need.

“If any of my constituents are struggling at the moment, then please do get in touch. In particular, if there are families who will be unable to provide meals for their children throughout the school holidays, please encourage them to get in touch.  My team and I very much stand ready to help them.”

Sheryll Murray, Scott Mann and Derek Thomas were all asked to comment but have, as yet, not responded.