The leaders of LibDem-run Sutton and Labour-controlled Croydon have been urged to join a growing number of councils in issuing food vouchers over half term as the row over free school meals provision during holidays continues.
London boroughs Southwark, Lambeth, Redbridge and Hammersmith and Fulham, all Labour-run, have joined three authorities in the north of England who have agreed to fund their own schemes.
The move comes after a motion to extend free school meals over holidays during the coronavirus pandemic was rejected by the Conservative government. None of Sutton or Croydon’s Tory MPs voted with the motion – Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) and Chris Philp (Croydon South) voted against feeding the country’s most vulnerable children, while Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) didn’t even bother showing up for the division.
The free school meals campaign has been led by Manchester United and England footballer, Marcus Rashford, who has called on people to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children.
Rashford, who was recently made an MBE in recognition of his work in highlighting food poverty among many children, was said to be “in despair” when watching the House of Commons debate this week.
He has now responded by effectively trolling Boris Johnson’s government, using his 3.6million-follower Twitter account to highlight and praise every council and business that has joined his campaign and offered food to children over half-term.
Stephen Cowan, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council leader, told the BBC that watching the parliamentary debate was “cutting”.
He said: “I have seen a lot of kids who need food. I was in a school on Tuesday speaking to kids who have the free lunches now and they were explaining they have gone for days without a proper meal.
“They were very sweet kids, and then I looked at the MPs who were so callously indifferent to that and I thought, ‘how can that be happening in the fifth richest country on Earth?’
“There are so many things they spend money on, it’s a moral imperative.”
In Croydon today, some on social media have called on the council to match the moves of neighbours Southwark and Lambeth and provide vouchers over half-term.
Others have suggested constituents turning up for MP Philp’s regular canvassing session in Purley tomorrow morning to ask why he failed to vote in favour of providing more free school meals.
In Sutton, Labour activists challenged Ruth Dombey, the LibDem leader of the council, for a statement on what her local authority planned to do to feed hungry children.
“Surely Ruth Dombey and Sutton LibDems would see this as an opportunity to demonstrate separation from the needlessly cruel Tory austerity politics of their former coalition partners?” wrote one on social media.
“Come on Sutton Council, do the right thing and provide the free school meals the kids need.”
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