Rashford says children will 'feel like they don't matter' after MPs reject free school meals over Christmas

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Martha Fairlie

Marcus Rashford has urged for politics to be 'put aside' after the government rejected a plan to provide free school meals over the Christmas holidays.

MPs voted 322 to 261 against the Labour motion which would have extended free school meal provision over the Christmas and Easter.

After the vote Rashford said people needed to put aside politics and realise "a significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter."

He added: "This is not about politics this is about humanity."

He said: "We talk about the devastating impact of Covid-19 but, if projections are anything to go by, child food poverty has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced."

The Manchester United player earlier warned politicians not to “turn a blind eye” to vulnerable families and said he would be “paying close attention” to the vote.

Downing Street managed to resist pressure to perform a U-turn after facing criticism from some Tory MPs.

During the debate Tory MP and Chair of the Education Committee Robert Halfon said backing the was a "no brainer."

The Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green, urged MPs to vote for the motion: “While the provision of free school meals is closed, the gravy train is still open for business. £7,000 a day for consultants working on a test and trace system that doesn’t work."Many Tory MPs accused Labour of playing politics over forcing the debate in order to create headlines without offering real solutions to child poverty.

They also highlighted how the last Labour government rejected plans for extend free school meals over the Christmas holidays.

Earlier Boris Johnson told MPs at PMQs: “We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so,”

Boris Johnson said his government already supported low income children at PMQs. Credit: PA

“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school.

“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”

Earlier Rashford, who was made an MBE for his efforts this year, urged his 3.4 million Twitter followers to lobby MPs to back his campaign.

He said: “Paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of our most vulnerable children, 2.2 million of them who currently qualify for free school meals.”

Rashford said the economic hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had made the situation worse than it was at the start of the crisis.

“We aren’t in the same position we were in in the summer, it’s much worse,” he said.

“The number of children with little to no access to food has risen significantly.”

Labour's analysis showed that nearly one million children living in areas that are subject to Tier 2 and Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions are set to lose access to free school meals over the upcoming holidays.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the vote was about "our values as a country and whether the Government, in the middle of this crisis, is happy to let our children go hungry.

“Millions of families up and down the country are facing a bleak winter of real hardship as the furlough scheme is withdrawn and further restrictions are put in place without proper support for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.”

Rashford was awarded an MBE in October for is campaign to extend free school meals over the summer and his wider efforts to tackle child poverty.