Allies say Johnson 'WILL provide more cash to feed children'

Allies say Boris Johnson ‘WILL u-turn and provide more cash to feed poor children’ after growing Tory revolt on his ‘shockingly inept’ stance – as children’s commissioner likens government to something ‘from Oliver Twist’

  • Boris Johnson faces growing Tory revolt on government free school meals policy
  • Senior Tories threatening to side with Labour in another looming vote on issue   
  • Footballer is calling for meals to be funded over school holidays until Easter 2021
  • Tory MPs were sharing angry messages over the handling of the campaign
  • Figures at Downing St say work is being done on more support for eligible pupils

Allies of the Prime Minister say he will u-turn and provide more funding to feed poor children amid a backlash of Tory MPs threatening to join forces with Labour.

Boris Johnson has been battling with the prospect of a major revolt over the refusal to extend free school meals over the holidays – as a petition by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford nears 900,000 signatures.

Pressure was heaped on Mr Johnson this morning as Labour leader Keir Starmer announced that he will force another Commons vote on the issue soon.

And senior Conservatives made clear they could line up behind the motion this time, with some saying they ‘regretted’ supporting the government in a decision last week.

Meanwhile, children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield has delivered an excoriating condemnation of the spat, saying it was like ‘something out of Oliver Twist’.  

Former ministers are leading a Conservative revolt on free school meals as they warned the PM he must think up ‘something better’ or they would vote against his Government.

As many as 100 Tory MPs were sharing angry messages over the Government’s handling of the campaign, describing it as ‘shockingly inept’, a ‘political disaster,’ and ‘hopeless communication’, The Times reported. 

Figures at Downing Street now say that work is being done on more support for eligible pupils outside of school term time.   

The PM is facing the prospect of a major Tory revolt unless he thinks again on the refusal to extend free school meals over the holidays 

Senior Tory MPs Bernard Jenkin (left) and Tobias Ellwood (right) are among those criticising the government’s policy

It comes as a petition by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford (pictured with his mother Melanie while helping at a food bank in Greater Manchester)  has reached more than 800,000 signatures

Pressure was heaped on Mr Johnson this morning as Labour leader Keir Starmer announced that he will force another Commons vote on the issue soon

And more than 2,000 paediatricians had signed an open letter to Mr Johnson urging a rethink. 

As Tory angst builds, Liaison Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin warned that the Government has ‘misunderstood’ the mood of the country over free school meals.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I think we have to admit that we have misunderstood the mood of the country here.

‘The public want to see the Government taking a national lead on this. I think the Government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there’s going to be more votes in the House of Commons.

The open letter by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to Boris Johnson in full

As paediatricians we are shocked by the refusal of the UK Government to extend the provision of free school meals in England to children from low-income backgrounds during the school holidays.

Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics.

Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat.

Every day, we see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in our work as paediatricians.

It is not unusual for us to care for children who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have access to a substantial meal outside of what is provided in school.

Good nutrition is at the heart of health, wellbeing and development for children and young people.

Without it, children’s health outcomes worsen, and with that, so do their life chances

More than 4 million children in the UK live in poverty and around one third of those are reliant on free school meals.

The pandemic has entrenched and exacerbated this reality; families who were previously managing are now struggling to make ends meet because of the impact of COVID-19.

It is not good enough to send them into the holiday period hoping for the best, while knowing that many will simply go hungry.

Food vouchers will not solve this problem, but they offer a short-term remedy.

We call on the UK Government to match the pledges of the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, to continue to provide children from low-income backgrounds with free meals over the coming weeks and to then extend this at least until the Easter school holiday, as they have done in Wales and Scotland.

We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and his powerful campaigning. His advocacy for children and young people has been a source of inspiration in difficult times.

We are proud to stand with him on this issue.

‘When you have got the chairman of the Education Select Committee (Robert Halfon) not supporting the Government on this – and he’s a Conservative – I think that the Government has to listen to the Conservative Party.’

Asked how he would vote in any further Commons divisions, Sir Bernard said: ‘I shall wait to see what the Government says and how they respond to the situation.’

Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood was asked on Times Radio if he regretted voting with the government last week.

‘I suppose, yes, if I’m honest about it,’ he said.

‘I regret the way the debate came about because one thing that is happening here is we’re losing the national resolve if you like. 

‘Politicians and the politics of this whole Covid-19 I’m afraid is not going in the right direction. 

‘The more parties work together and support a collective direction of government the easier it is to manage an enduring emergency.’ 

Meanwhile, Ms Longfield said she had been ‘horrified and really disappointed’ by the recent debates over the extension of free school meal vouchers for vulnerable children.

‘We’re a wealthy country, it’s 2020,’ she told Sky News.

‘To have a debate about whether we should make sure that hungry and vulnerable children have enough to eat is something that is strikingly similar to something we’d expect to see in chapters of Oliver Twist – a novel published in the 19th century.

‘Let’s stop the divisive and distracting conversation, and let’s start focusing.’

But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis defended the Government’s stance.

He said ministers had increased Universal Credit and were providing £63million to local authorities to help people in their communities at a time of hardship.

‘I know this is a very emotive issue. It is a sensitive issue. It is something that affects families in my constituency as well as round the country. I think the position we have taken is the right position,’ he told Sky News.

‘What we are looking to do is ensure that we deal with child poverty at the core, putting the structure in place that means even in school holidays children can get access to the food that they need.’

In the letter organised by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the doctors say they are ‘shocked’ by the government’s refusal to extend the scheme to children from low-income backgrounds in England during upcoming school holidays.

The college has called for the government to match pledges made by authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – who have agreed to extend the schemes across the Christmas, February and Easter breaks.

Speaking about the letter, Professor Russell Viner, President of the RCPCH, said: ‘I’ve rarely seen such anger among our members.

‘We care for children who don’t have enough to eat. We see far too many of them.

‘It is heartbreaking that it has become a normal part of our jobs and hunger is all too common for millions of families in the UK.

‘There is an opportunity to put this right. It is pointless to talk about levelling up the country, an ambition which we support, while refusing to offer temporary relief to children and families.’

The college says there are four million children living in the UK in poverty with the pandemic ‘entrenching this reality’.  

Bosses say children ‘desperately need government support’ and that, while food vouchers will not solve the problem of child poverty, they do offer a short-term remedy for children that don’t have enough to eat. 

Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement at the RCPCH said: ‘We’re a rich country. This isn’t about money, it’s about making sure people have food to eat, and it’s about doing the right thing for children who need a hand up.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis defended the Government’s stance despite rising criticism from all sides

Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield (left) said the spat was like ‘something out of Oliver Twist’. Russell Viner, pictured right, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which has slammed the government for refusing to extend free school meals over the holidays

‘We shouldn’t have to fight for food vouchers when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.’

It comes as a petition by Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, calling for an end to child food poverty, this morning nears 800,000 signatures.

The striker was also mentioned in the open letter by RCPCH, who praised his campaign and said they were ‘proud to stand with him’ on this issue.

But yesterday Downing Street insisted that it would not back down over the footballer’s campaign for free school meals – as Tory party rifts over the issue burst out into the open.

Two Tory MPs were criticised for controversial remarks about the Manchester United player’s call for the meals to be funded over the school holidays until Easter 2021, with one suggesting that the money went to ‘crack dens and brothels’.

The other implied hospitality firms which stepped in to offer free food did not need Government help.

It came as No 10 moved quickly to stress that an aide to Chancellor Rishi Sunak who promised a ‘detailed statement’ on the issue was speaking in a personal capacity and not signalling a U-turn.

A Deltapoll survey for the Mail on Sunday found 71 per cent of voters support Rashford’s campaign, with 18 per cent opposed.

The 22-year-old, who was made an MBE for his successful campaign for free meals to be issued during the national lockdown, launched his new drive after Parliament rejected proposals to provide the free meals for vulnerable children. 

The striker said that he was ‘truly overwhelmed’ by the fact that his online petition has garnered more than 700,000 signatures, and praised local communities for providing half-term, stop-gap measures.

Downing Street yesterday insisted it would not back down on calls made by the Manchester United player Marcus Rashford for school meals to be funded over the school holiday until Easter 2021

Parliamentary adviser to Mr Sunak, Tory MP James Cartlidge, defended the Government’s position on Twitter by saying the criticism was ‘wholly disproportionate… given we have the same reasonable position Labour had in every year of govt… that schools aren’t responsible for feeding pupils outside term time’.

However, he added: ‘But accept more to it than that and will make detailed statement in due course’.

No 10 later clarified the MP was ‘speaking in a personal capacity’.

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley triggered a storm by replying to a tweet in which another user described the free school meals programme as ‘£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel’, by saying: ‘That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did…’

After he was accused of stigmatising working-class families, he said his remarks had been ‘taken out of context’, and claimed he meant giving children who live in difficult situations an ‘unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever’ wasn’t ‘helpful’.

And in a now-deleted post on Facebook, North Devon MP Selaine Saxby said: ‘I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support’. 

Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley triggered a storm by replying to a tweet about the free school meals campaign

Meanwhile North Devon MP Selaine Saxby was also criticised for controversial remarks about the footballer’s calls

Ms Saxby also claimed she had been taken ‘out of context’. 

Her controversial comments came just days after the MP was barred from a Devon pub because locals were angered by her voting against an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have helped to protect farmers against being bankrupted by cheap, substandard food imports as part of post-Brexit trade deals.

Responding to the offers of free food from tea rooms, churches, farms and takeaways, Rashford said: ‘Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell. 

‘I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.’

McDonald’s has also offered support to families, announcing a partnership with food waste charity Fare Share UK to provide one million meals for families in need. 

Tory MP Robert Halfon, who voted in support of extending free school meal provision, said it should be a ‘no brainer’ for the PM to meet Rashford to come up with a free meals strategy.

Downing Street said: ‘We are committed to making sure the most vulnerable in our society are protected and we’ve put in place a strong package of support to ensure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.

‘The Prime Minister has said free school meals will continue during term time and that he wants to continue to support families throughout the crisis so they have cash available to feed kids as they need to do.’

More than 700,000 people sign a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals

By Raven Saunt 

More than 740,000 people have already signed a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals.  

Earlier this week, a motion to offer food aid to vulnerable families over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the House of Commons by 322 votes to 261. 

But the defeat sparked fierce backlash with Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, calling on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children.

The latest petition, which was launched on 38 Degrees, said: ‘MPs have voted against extending free school meals into the holidays for the poorest children in the UK, in the middle of a pandemic. 

‘They should under no circumstances benefit from free or subsidised meals out of public funds themselves.’    

More than 740,000 people have already signed a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals (parliamentary canteen pictured)

The petition has nearly reached its target of 800,000 signatures (figures from Sunday)

MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss. Pictured: Members’ Dining Room menu in September 2019

MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss.

This means that public money is effectively spent subsidising the overall catering operation.   

The petition has so far received more than 740,000 signatures out of its 800,000 target.

Portia Lawrie, who started the petition, said: ‘I only started this petition because I was so angry that some MPs had rejected the chance in parliament, and Marcus Rashford’s campaign, to extend free school meals into the school holiday.

‘I wanted to point out the clear hypocrisy between that and the food and drink the public subsidise for MP’s whilst denying support to those most in need of it.’

‘I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching unfold as hundreds of thousands of people threw their support behind it in less than 24 hours. 

‘It’s simply unfair that the government is refusing to use OUR money for one of the most basic responsibilities of a compassionate society – feeding hungry children. And the level of support this petition is getting shows clearly the level of hurt caused by those who voted against it.’ 

The link to the petition has since been shared by a range of famous faces including actors Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite.


The link to the petition has since been shared by a range of famous faces including actors Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite

It comes after Rashford tonight tweeted to ask people to ‘rise above’ disappointment, describing abuse of MPs and their families in recent days as ‘unacceptable’ and unnecessary’.

He wrote: ‘I want to take a quick second to acknowledge that a number of MP’s, and their families, have received unacceptable abuse over the last couple of days, especially on Twitter.

‘Believe me, as a Premier League player, I know all too well what that feels like, and it’s unnecessary. We are all bigger than that.’

He said he cannot and does not condone personal attacks on females in particular.

Calling for ‘collaboration’ and ‘togetherness’, he added: ‘Disappointment is a natural reaction, but we must rise above it.’

Earlier this week the athlete told BBC Newsnight that he ‘couldn’t be more proud to call myself British’ after his campaign to provide free meals to children this Christmas sparked an outpouring of support on social media. 

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, called on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children

The Manchester United footballer thanked hundreds of cafes, pubs and restaurants which came forward to offer half-term food for vulnerable children following the vote.

In a statement released to the flagship programme, the ace also responded to criticism of his decision to start the campaign, saying those who wanted to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’ would find them in his Twitter feed.  

Dozens of hospitality businesses have shown they ‘stand with Rashford, not the 322’ MPs who rejected the motion, by supporting families during the school holidays.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, the England star said: ‘Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family. 

‘When we stumbled, we were caught with open arms. Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.

Hospitality giants, councils and small firms rally to help vulnerable children

Local businesses and organisations:

  • The Greystones – Sheffield
  • Kingfisher Fish and Chips – Hull
  • The Courtyard – Birmingham
  • Farm Fresh – Nottingham
  • Rayrayz – Liverpool
  • Birchwood Autumn – West Lancashire
  • EJF Buffets and Banquets – Solihull
  • St James Church – Rawstenall
  • The Loft Cafe Bar – Bingley
  • The Gilt Rooms – Essex
  • Oliver’s – Surrey
  • Delphine Fish and Chips – Sheffield
  • Pearson’s Bar – Hull
  • Toast 2 roast – St Helens
  • The Panda Club – Liverpool
  • Manjaros – Middlesbrough
  • Mumtaz – Leeds
  • Barry’s Tearoom – Cumbria
  • The Rhubarb Shed Cafe – Sheffield
  • The Vale Cafe – Rothbury
  • Warrens Fruit and Veg – Watford
  • Jenny’s Brackley – Brackley
  • The Fun House – Whitehaven
  • Jo’s Place – Wilmslow
  • Bowring Park Cafe – Shropshire
  • Greenfields Farm – Telford
  • Minikin Art Cafe – Manchester
  • Babuls – Teesdale
  • The Sandwich Shop – Rotherham
  • Khandoker – Didsbury
  • The Hawthorne – Warrington
  • The Watering Can – Liverpool
  • The Pudding Pantry – Nottingham
  • Patna – Leek
  • Astoria Bar – Urmston
  • Belluno – Devon
  • Aubergine Cafe – Wirral
  • The Crown Inn – Bristol
  • The Courtyard – Wigan
  • The Handsworth – Sheffield
  • Bakers – Bolton
  • Lucid Games/Tranmere Rovers – Wirral
  • Royal and Derngate – Northampton
  • The VIllage Fish Bar – Bamber Bridge
  • Bik Smoke Brew Co – Surbiton, Kingston, Hammersmith, Weybridge, Chichester, Wokingham
  • Pavilion Street Kitchen – Cornwall
  • Count House Cafe – Cornwall
  • The Art House – Eastbourne
  • Market Hill Fisheries – Winterton
  • Kingfisher Fish and Chips – Hull
  • The Poachers – County Durham
  • Cafe Baraka – Cleethorpes
  • Jordan’s Cafe – Worthing
  • Duke’s Head – Great Yarmouth
  • Weoley Castle – Birmingham
  • Portofino Ristorante – Harrogate
  • Lillies Coffee Shop – Rotherham
  • Kimble’s – Billingham
  • No Bones – Hastings
  • Tintinhull Village Hall and Coffee Shop – Yeovil

Councils and regional authorities:

  • Greater Manchester City Region
  • Telford and Wrekin
  • Redbridge
  • Oldham
  • Greenwich
  • Liverpool
  • Kensington and Chelsea
  • Cheltenham Borough Council
  • Doncaster
  • Southwark
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Wandsworth
  • Portsmouth City Council
  • Lewisham
  • North Tyneside
  • St Helens Borough
  • Lambeth
  • Manchester City Council
  • Birmingham City Council
  • Sheffield City Council
  • Knowsley Council
  • Birmingham City Council
  • North Tyneside Council
  • St Helens Borough Council
  • Hackney Council
  • Portsmouth Council
  • Shropshire Council
  • City of Wolverhampton Council 

‘I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. 

‘You want to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’, look no further than my Twitter feed and that’s exactly what you’ll find.’ 

Some business giants are involved in the campaign, with McDonald’s set to deliver a million meals for children in the next few weeks. 

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson backed a campaign to provide free meals to vulnerable children, seeing it pass £35,000. 

Ms Lawson tweeted: ‘It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is more important to feed a hungry child than argue about how it’s done.

‘Or rather, donate if you can and then do what’s necessary to stop those who make children going hungry policy.’

Councils including Redbridge Borough Council, Southwark Council, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Liverpool City Council also said they would help out.

And smaller firms such as Aubergine Cafe in the Wirral, which is managed by Andrew Mahon and his wife May, have launched their own rescue missions for children. 

Announcing plans for food vouchers via the Co-op, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: ‘Was good to tell @MarcusRashford that we, his home city-region, aim to be the first in the country to achieve his vision.’

After unveiling a similar scheme in his city, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson tweeted: ‘Families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. No child should have to go hungry and in Liverpool we won’t let them. Thanks for your hard work and campaigning @MarcusRashford.’ 

A host of celebrities also offered their support to the England star, with journalist Caitlin Moran tweeting: ‘Marcus Rashford’s timeline swells your heart – people across the country doing something about feeding kids at Christmas.’

Musician Tim Burgess, a fellow Mancunian, tweeted: ‘Wow, @MarcusRashford is a true hero of our times. So many MPs should feel shame over the fact that a footballer is helping the needy, more than they are.’

Support also came from across the football world, with ex-England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker posting: ‘Well played @MarcusRashford. Check his timeline. Extraordinary from a remarkable young man.’

A top regional Conservative politician has since waded in to the furore, blasting the Government’s ‘last-minute’ decision-making.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street said the Government should make ‘a clear decision’ on whether it would or would not fund free school meals over holidays ‘well in advance’.

Asked if the Government should have to fund half-term meals, he said: ‘I think – at the last minute – you probably do have to fund it, is the answer to that.’     

He added: ‘It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this.’

He said the lack of planning meant there was now an ‘indiscriminate arrangement’ across the country as to whether free school meals would be provided over the break.

McDonald’s funding will enable charity FareShare to redistribute food to families who need it most in the coming weeks.

UK and Ireland CEO Paul Pomroy said: ‘As a business we are committed to supporting and serving the communities in which we operate.

‘In these challenging times, we know it’s more important than ever to support those most in need.

‘When we temporarily closed our restaurants in March, our people, franchisees and suppliers rallied to provide surplus food and support to food banks and charities.

‘We were pleased that we were able to donate surplus food through FareShare and other organisations earlier this year, and we admire the fantastic work that FareShare continues to do to support families facing very tough situations.

‘I am pleased to support the distribution of one million meals to the families most in need this Autumn, and I wish to thank and congratulate FareShare for everything they’re doing.’

FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell added: ‘McDonalds is showing real leadership in supporting the most vulnerable in society to get access to healthy food at this critical time.

‘The funding will enable the equivalent of 1 million meals to be redistributed to our charity network very swiftly, and we are very grateful for their urgent support.’ 

STEPHEN GLOVER: Do the right thing on free school meals… and see off Labour

Comment by Stephen Glover for the Daily Mail 

Are the Tories again the ‘nasty party’, as critics of the Government’s refusal to extend provision for free school lunches over this week’s half-term and the Christmas holidays contend?

Or is No 10 being perfectly reasonable, having provided extra welfare giveaways during the pandemic of some £9billion? 

Are the Tories being wrongly depicted as mean-minded by a devious Labour Party, which said yesterday that it intends to force a second vote on the issue this week?

The Government’s position is that it offered free school meals for around 1.3million children in England – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements – during the summer holidays.

That was an exceptional concession after a spirited campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford. 

The Royal Borough of Greenwich has provided children with free meals for the last two years

Now the Government is reverting to the status quo, while pouring extra money into the welfare system and giving local councils an extra £63million to help with food shortages.

Moreover, Tory MPs are surely right to stress that it should be the responsibility even of poor parents to feed their children wherever possible, and this is not the proper business of the State. 

The Government can’t go on providing free school meals outside term-time for ever.

These are respectable arguments. There’s absolutely no evidence that No 10 is being beastly – far from it. Those attempting to paint it in such terms are playing party politics.

But I do think the Government has got this wrong, and I won’t be surprised if in a day or two it again changes its mind, and announces that there will be free school meals for needy children during the Christmas holidays. 

The Government’s mistake has been to underestimate the extremely damaging effects which Covid-19 and accompanying restrictions have had on a significant minority of families.

Through no fault of their own, millions of hard-working people have found themselves furloughed (which entails surviving on a reduced income) or out of work.

The number of unemployed is certain to rise over the coming months. There will be greater hardship.

These people are the casualties of exceptional circumstances, of a once-in-a-generation scourge that has turned their lives upside down. Some of them may be unable to provide for their children as they would like.

The Government’s response is that improved universal credit and handouts from councils should, in fact, be effective in ensuring that hungry stomachs are filled. Well, maybe. 

The trouble is that such payments can take time, and some people always fall through the cracks in any welfare system. 

The beauty of free school lunches is that they go directly to the right children. A system already exists which ensures that those in need immediately get what they require – a decent meal.

Of course, it is heartening that many local businesses are undertaking to supply children with food during half-term. But one wonders whether such arrangements can ever be as comprehensive as those overseen by the authorities. I very much doubt it.

Footballer Marcus Rashford, who is calling on the Government to fund school meals until Easter 2021, visiting FareShare in Greater Manchester 

Why is No 10 holding out against retaining its scheme? I suppose it is because it doesn’t think government should take over parental duty for feeding children for a protracted period of time. Where will it stop?

It’s a fair point. The answer is that this is a national emergency, and so it is reasonable for the Government to take on responsibilities for as long as the emergency lasts – which may be until next spring – in order to offer vital protection to children, who are entirely innocent victims.

The irony, of course, is that the sums involved in maintaining the scheme are minute compared with the tens of billions of pounds already shelled out by the Government. Keeping it going until March 2021, as Labour demands, would probably cost around £100million.

So despite having been creative and far from tight-fisted in keeping the economy afloat since March, No 10 is being berated for its supposedly hard-hearted refusal to provide free school meals for a few more months. It looks like a political own goal.

Which Labour is successfully exploiting. Tory MP Ben Bradley perhaps unwisely tweeted of his home town Mansfield: ‘One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending free school meals doesn’t reach these kids.’

This was reasonable, if somewhat irrelevant. Yet it was deftly taken out of context by some on the Left. According to deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, ‘this stigmatisation of working-class families’ was ‘disgraceful and disgusting’. What tripe.

Nonetheless, Labour is winning the propaganda war, and is succeeding in making the Tories appear mean-spirited. 

Rashford visiting FareShare, a charity fighting hunger and food waste, with his mother 

In fact, they are mainly guilty of a lack of imagination after successive economic hand-outs which, because all of it is borrowed money that must be paid back, have arguably been too munificent.

A growing number of Conservative MPs are expressing disquiet. When senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin – no softie, he – admits that the Government has ‘misunderstood the mood of the country’ on free school meals, it really is time to put up the white flag.

Will Boris Johnson do so? He will be reluctant to provoke the inevitable catcalls from those who will claim he has executed an ungainly U-turn for the umpteenth time. But the jeering will soon pass.

Much better to do the right thing, which is to help vulnerable children directly for as long as this national emergency persists, and see off Labour’s false though persuasive accusations of heartlessness.

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