800,000 sign petition calling for MPs to be stripped of food subsidies over free school meals row

George Martin
·3-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: School students and educators protest outside Downing Street against the government decision not to extend free school meals during half term and the Christmas holidays on October 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)
School students and educators protest outside Downing Street this week. (Getty)

Over 800,000 people have signed a petition calling for MPs to be stripped of their subsidised food over the free school meals row.

MPs currently have access to Parliamentary bars and restaurants which offer meals to serving politicians at discount prices.

Although they are not directly subsidised, the hospitality venues are operated at a loss and propped up using taxpayer funds.

The online petition, which appeared earlier this week, calls for the practice of offering MPs cheaper meals to be stopped after a motion to offer food aid to vulnerable families over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the House of Commons.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as he leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on September 30, 2020 to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has been under pressure to overturn a vote on free school meals. (Getty)

The campaign’s description 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.”

It comes as Shadow education secretary Kate Green warned Labour will bring the issue back to the House of Commons if ministers do not relent in time for Christmas.

Green called on Boris Johnson to meet with the taskforce set up by footballer Marcus Rashford "as a matter of urgency" to discuss its proposals for ending child poverty.

Read more: 'No reply to this': Tory MP takes on Marcus Rashford in free schools meals Twitter row

On Wednesday, the government comfortably defeated a Labour motion calling for the extension of free meals during the school holidays in England until Easter 2021 with a Commons majority of more than 60.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, Green said: "There is still time to change approach, but the government must act quickly.

“If you change your policy now, we can ensure that no child goes to bed hungry on Christmas Day.

Watch: Businesses back Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals

"Labour will not give up on the fight to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry, and if you do not change course we will bring this issue back to the House of Commons before Christmas."

Ministers have insisted that they will not back down on the issue, arguing that children in need can be helped more effectively through more targeted measures.

However, the government has already been forced to make one U-turn on the issue over the summer as a result of Rashford's campaigning and Labour is determined to press home its attack.

Five Conservative MPs rebelled to support the Labour motion on Wednesday while others are coming under pressure from within their constituencies.

A government spokesman said: "This government has expanded eligibility for free school meals to more children than any other in decades.

"We have provided free school meals when schools were partially closed, increasing welfare support by £9.3 billion, and giving councils £63 million for families facing financial difficulties.

"We also provided vouchers through the Covid summer food fund, in addition to the holiday activities and food programme."