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King's Lynn MP defends school meal vote

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As efforts to help feed hungry children begin in North Lynn , a West Norfolk MP has defended his vote against a proposal to extend free school meals to be extended.

Conservative politicians have been branded "heartless" and "cruel" after blocking a Labour motion to continue the scheme until next Easter in a Commons vote on Wednesday.

But the North West Norfolk MP, James Wild, who was among those to reject the call, insists there are better ways to help children in need.

James Wild MP.. (26717613)
James Wild MP.. (26717613)

He said: “Members on all benches in the HoC are committed to child poverty and ensuring that no child goes hungry.”

He said he worked with local schools to resolve issues with the voucher scheme earlier in the year.

And he argued: “The issue is whether the best way to support low-income families is to continue to provide vouchers indefinitely through school holidays; or if instead, we should provide targeted support through the welfare system, rather than schools, outside of term time.

Should free school meals be extended during the holidays?
Should free school meals be extended during the holidays?

“Strengthening the welfare system is the better approach.”

The plan to extend the provision which was offered during the summer holidays until Easter 2021, as the Labour government in Wales has committed to do, was defeated by a majority of 61.

Labour MP Clive Lewis, who was the only Norfolk MP to support the plan, said: “We’re heading into a second stage of this crisis which could have even more of an impact on families and children.

He argued the scheme would cost “a realistically small amount of money” and branded the refusal “heartless, cruel and calculated”.

He added: “It’s about making a political statement out of some of the most vulnerable children in our country.

“There will be children – as Marcus Rashford said – who will wake up today thinking ‘does my government even care about me?’.

But Conservatives have highlighted £9bn extra welfare payments and a further £63m for worst-hit area’s councils.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: “I’m deeply concerned at both child and food poverty, which is why I’ve been so outspoken in supporting Marcus Rashford in the summer.

“Tackling food poverty is not simple and there are real issues with finding the right long term policy. I’m very uneasy with food vouchers redeemable only at certain shops for certain goods.

“I welcome the government commitment to provide £9bn extra welfare payments and £60m extra for councils in hardest-hit areas.”

He added: “We need a more integrated approach to tackle the complex issues at the heart of malnutrition and food poverty.”

And Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland, said: “I don’t believe schools turning into branches of the welfare state during holidays is the right way to do this.

“The best way to support low-income families to feed their children is not by giving them food vouchers, which until now Labour have criticised as demeaning. It’s better to focus on family income, as in the increase of £20 a week to Universal Credit.”

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss was absent from the vote, as she was in Japan conducting trade negotiations.

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