North East Herts MP votes against free school meal extension despite previous support
- Credit: Archant
North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald has voted against extending free school meals to the Christmas holidays, despite initially pushing for the scheme back in the summer.
A total of 2,300 children in low-income households North Herts could have received free food while out of school in the October half term and Christmas period. Sir Oliver had previously “pressed the Conservative party” to back the Summer Food Fund for children who receive free school meals, but this support was not reflected in last night’s vote.
The campaign led by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford was successful earlier in the year – following a government U-turn – with the news confirmed by a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johson on June 16.
At the time Sir Oliver Heald, who lives in Royston, said: “I am delighted that there will be a COVID Summer Food Fund for children who receive free school meals.
“I had pressed for this in the Conservative Party. I particularly pay tribute to Man Utd and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who is a fine role model anyway and who campaigned for this and got his goal.”
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This latest vote in Parliament was a Labour-led motion supported by five Conservative MPs – Caroline Ansell, Robert Halfon, Jason McCartney, Anne Marie Morris and Holly Mumby-Croft.
Anthony Browne and Bim Afolami – Conservative MPs for South Cambs and Hitchin and Harpenden respectively – also voted against the move.
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Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, abstained.
Sir Oliver explained his change of course, stating that he believes “taking account of the overall final position for people on a low income with children, the balance that the government has struck is about right”.
He said: “It is important to see the issue in its overall context, where substantial extra funding has been provided to increase the benefits available to people on low incomes and the level of the national living wage.
“The benefit increase was more than £1,000 and takes into account the need to feed children.
“I welcome the action that was taken to ensure that eligible children were still able to get free school meals during the period of partial school closures and over the summer holidays.
“While schools were restricted from opening to all pupils, additional support was given to families in recognition of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for schools during this time. However, provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only and there is no requirement for schools to continue this provision during school holidays.
“Guidance was published to help schools prepare for pupils returning to school. This includes suggested approaches to help school leaders in their decision making around school meals.”