'Empty plate' protests at Devon and Cornwall MPs' offices over free school meals row

291020 saxby protest. credit Steven White Photography
Empty plates were left outside Selaine Saxby MP's office. Credit: Steven White Photography

Dozens of 'empty plates' have been outside the constituency offices of MPs in Devon and Cornwall.

The protests were organised after the Government voted against extending free school meals into the half-term holiday.

Harvey Hennessy was among the protesters in Barnstaple. Credit: Steven White Photography

Several similar events have taken place around the country this week. Campaigners gathered at the offices of Cherilyn Mackrory in Truro and Selaine Saxby in Barnstaple.

Harvey Hennessy, one of the North Devon protesters, said: "We asked people to place plates outside with a message to Selaine. The turnout was great and so many plates were placed.

"We made sure there were no more than six people together and that we wore masks and socially distanced."

Protests have been taking place all around the country. Credit: Steven White Photography

Selaine Saxby voted against free half-term meals for children and then caused controversy with a post on a local Facebook group, posting that she "delighted" that local businesses are doing well enough post-lockdown that they can offer free meals.

The post, which has now been deleted, attracted a torrent of criticism.

Saxby later issued a statement expressing "deep regret" for any offence caused and said her comments were taken out of context.

Mrs Mackrory last week defended her decision to vote against the motion saying: "I voted against the motion because the Government already has significant measures in place to support vulnerable families.

"The best way of ensuring that families are supported financially is by ensuring that we have a welfare system that works for everyone in this country.

"It is not right for schools or the education system to become part of the welfare state in the way that this motion demanded. The welfare state is there to protect families, the education system is there to educate our children.

"What we need to be doing, therefore, is ensuring that parents have enough support from the welfare state in order to be able to support their children throughout the school holidays, when they are at home and away from education."

George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, has since suggested there could be new support for free school meal-eligible families at Christmas.

When asked about free school meals, he said: "There's a budget coming up shortly and this is something the chancellor be considering in the round."

He added: "If there's an issue that needs addressing then we stand ready to do other types of intervention and other types of support."

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