Thousands of free meals will be provided to children by businesses, local authorities and community groups across England, including Conservative-run councils, on the first day of half term as the government faces a damaging revolt on the issue (see 9.44am.).
Dozens of people from a range of organisations have stepped in to help, with Matt Hancock hailing them as “absolutely wonderful” while insisting that millions has already been provided to councils to help their communities.
A petition from footballer Marcus Rashford, who has been spearheading demands for free meals to be extended in England over the school holidays, has passed 880,000 signatures, piling further pressure on the government to act.
Conservative-led Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said it would be providing food parcels for families from Monday, tweeting:
Announcing almost 3,300 youngsters would receive 15 vouchers from their schools to cover the cost of meals during the holiday, Kensington and Chelsea council, which is also Tory-run, said:
Other Tory-controlled councils getting on board include Hillingdon, which is in Boris Johnson’s constituency, Medway and Wandsworth, with the latter approving a £10,000 food voucher scheme.
The prime minister is reportedly planning to increase funding for the poorest families over Christmas, a move seen as a partial climbdown by the government in its struggle with Rashford.
The Times (paywall) quoted allies of the PM as saying work was under way on providing additional support for eligible pupils outside term time. There was no immediate response to the reports from Downing Street.
It’s unclear if this will be enough to defuse the growing anger on the Tory benches as more MPs continued to speak out against the government’s handling of the issue.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer has sought to exploit the disarray in the Conservative ranks by confirming Labour would force another Commons vote on the issue if ministers do not relent in time for the Christmas holidays.
Senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin has warned the government had “misunderstood the mood of the country” and would probably have to think again. The former children’s minister Tim Loughton, who abstained in last week’s vote on the issue, said he would vote against the government if it came to the Commons again, while another ex-minister, Tobias Ellwood, expressed regret that he had supported the government last week.
The government comfortably defeated Labour’s motion calling for the extension of free meals during the holidays until Easter 2021 with a Commons majority of more than 60, with just five Tory MPs breaking ranks to vote with the opposition.
However, having already been forced to make one U-turn on the issue over the summer as a result of Rashford’s campaigning, ministers will be concerned at the prospect of another revolt when MPs return to Westminster following this week’s half-term recess.