By April Howard
It came as no great shock when I found out that the Commons had voted against extending the free school meals scheme over the holidays. I felt a great level of anger and disgust, but no real shock. Then, as I scrolled through the list of 320 MPs (all Conservatives) who voted against the proposal, I again felt no shock.
The issue with this is that I should have been shocked – I should have been in a state of disbelief. I should have had to reread the headline over and over again. It should be unbelievable that MPs, who are proposing a £3000 pay rise for themselves, should vote against a measure that would ensure children have at least one good meal a day during a time of great economic strife. But with the Conservatives, every heartless decision is never very shocking anymore.
“I should have been shocked, I should have been in a state of disbelief”
The fact is that 1.4 million children (21% of pupils) aged 4-15 are eligible for free school meals. 1.4 million children living in food poverty is a disgraceful figure in a country as wealthy as ours. It is also fact that the 320 MPs who voted to deny these children food over the half term and Christmas holidays have never experienced food poverty.
They do not know what it is like to go to school hungry, for your mum to have to choose between paying the rent or bills and putting food on the table, or how it feels to go to bed with a rumbling, painful stomach. They do not know and, unlike most people, they cannot empathise enough to imagine what it is like. If they could, they would simply not have voted in this way.
This lack of empathy, or basic human kindness, often characterises this government’s approach to the working class. We need only look at the Grenfell Tower tragedy for a recent example of this. Conservative MPs refused to support an amendment to the building safety bill (proposed by Labour) to help prevent yet another tragic atrocity.
“This lack of empathy… often characterises this government’s approach to the working class”
Boris Johnson has continually faced heavy criticism from Grenfell survivors, especially for his selection of Benita Mehra to lead the public enquiry. Survivors and campaigners were sceptical and outraged by this appointment as Mehra’s engineering charity receiving a £71k grant from the firm, Arconic, that made the tower’s flammable cladding.
We must understand the importance of looking after our most vulnerable in times such as these. We must condemn the callousness and hypocrisy of these Conservative MPs. MPs can claim food expenses (up to £25 a night) when staying overnight outside of their constituency and the London area and parliament’s catering services do not break even (so, in order to run, are effectively subsidised by the taxpayer), and yet they still felt that they could vote against providing underprivileged children with a meal a day.
One Conservative MP, Ben Bradley, took to Twitter and disgracefully linked children entitled to free school meals to ‘crack dens’ and ‘brothels’ in an ignorant and hateful attempt to excuse his vote. There is no word to describe this level of contempt.
Marcus Rashford’s rallying call to businesses to step up has clearly worked. In the wake of this vote, companies and councils up and down the country have announced that they will be feeding children for free over the holidays, picking up government’s slack.
Will this prompt yet another U-turn from the government? Or will they simply allow food banks, the kindness of individual businesses and councils, of volunteers and donating shoppers, to do the job they should have done themselves?
Image: Cheshire East Council via Creative Commons