A social media flashmob protest took place yesterday outside the offices of Sutton’s Conservative MPs to express public disgust at Paul Scully voting in the Commons against providing free meals for vulnerable children during the half-term break. Protesters described Scully’s actions as “heartless”.
The protest was inspired by the campaign to support those on free school meals launched by England striker Marcus Rashford, and it came on the day when Sutton Council finally got round to announcing its system for distributing vouchers to families who qualify for free school meals.
Scully is the MP for Sutton and Cheam. Protestors also asked why Scully’s Tory colleague, Eliot Colburn, the new MP for Carshalton and Wallington, didn’t even bother to show up for the Commons vote last week.
The plate protest brought together members of a Facebook community page, most of whom had never met before.
“This is a community that cares for its own,” said one of the organisers, Sheldon Vestey, “but it shouldn’t fall to individuals to make up for a government’s apathy, especially not as we’re going through a pandemic.
“We’d much rather see our taxes covering free school meals for children in poverty than subsidise food and alcohol for MPs in posh bars and restaurants in Parliament.”
Another of the protestors told Inside Sutton: “Mr Colburn and Mr Scully’s actions are indefensible. With a quarter of children in Sutton living in poverty, we need MPs that actually take action to tackle the problems that are all too real to many residents. To remove support to the most vulnerable in the middle of a global pandemic is not supporting local kids, it’s abandoning them.
“At times when trust in the government is low and messaging is often confusing it is important to invest in policy that is trusted. The extension of free school meals is supported by parents, teachers, doctors and the public at large.
“Refusing meal to kids on free school meals during a pandemic is heartlessness.”
Vestey said, “During the first lockdown, my wife and I undertook countless hours of food drives and fundraising as well as organising the local community response to covid and the effects of lockdown. We saw first-hand the knock-on effects of not just lockdown and covid but also our government’s austerity policies over the last decade.
“The rise in foodbank use has been greater than we ever understood and to see school meals not be extended to children in need whilst billions are being misspent is truly shocking.
“I feel that Sutton is currently torn between MPs who won’t vote to help hungry children and a council who won’t help children with special needs via Cognus. I feel let down by our representatives.”
Yesterday – the first day of the half-term holiday for many schools – Sutton Council finally got around to announcing the details of how families can claim help with food during the break.
“It is right that councils look to provide extra support during a pandemic, where families have lost significant income, but the Conservative government is failing in its duty here to protect people in Sutton who are suffering considerable hardship,” said Ruth Dombey, the leader of the Liberal Democrat-controlled council. “We simply cannot standby whilst children go hungry – we must act.”
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