By Paul Waugh
Marcus Rashford’s plan to extend free school meals over holiday periods will be put to a Commons vote on Wednesday in a bid to force Tory MPs to pile pressure on Boris Johnson to agree the move.
Labour triggered the parliamentary event by tabling an Opposition Day motion after No.10 again refused to commit to the England footballer’s proposals to tackle child hunger in England.
A vote will now take place on Wednesday evening, with Conservative backbenchers faced with a choice of backing Rashford’s plan or either abstaining or voting against it.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner will lead for Labour in the chamber and the motion will read: ”This House calls on the Government to continue directly funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 to prevent over a million children going hungry during this crisis”.
Labour hopes that the parliamentary threat will force the PM into changing his mind, just as its Opposition Day motion last summer resulted in a government U-turn.
The move came after the party’s 72-hour deadline passed for a response from the government to announce a U-turn.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “It is essential the Government provides this support urgently.
“We gave the Prime Minister the chance to change course, but he refused to do so. Now his MPs must decide if they want to vote for their constituents to get this vital support or if they will leave families struggling to put food on the table.”
Labour wants the government to extend free school meals, starting with the October half term which begins next week in most places in England.
The Labour government in Wales has already provided £11m in additional support to fund free meals over holidays upto and including next Easter.
On Saturday, Rashford challenged Boris Johnson to honour his election pledge to “level up” the UK by introducing a comprehensive package to end child poverty and hunger.
He called for major changes to the welfare system, including an end to the Tories’ two-child cap on Universal Credit and an increase in the value of healthy eating vouchers for pregnant mothers.
Rashford has amassed nearly 300,000 signatures in just over five days for his online parliamentary petition demanding urgent action to stop children going hungry.
No.10 Downing Street sparked anger last week when it flatly rejected his proposals, claiming that “it’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays”. It repeated its stance on Friday and on Monday.
Merry Christmas kids…
It’s also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising…
This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I… https://t.co/dCwT07WShz
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 15, 2020
Some senior Tories such as education select committee chairman Rob Halfon have called on the PM to think again.
Former premier Gordon Brown last week also urged Johnson to personally intervene to fund the £20m a week cost of the holiday extension plan.
Shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq wrote to every Tory MP on Monday night asking them to support the plan to provide additional support to over 1.4 million children in every school holiday until Easter.