Why did Conservative MPs vote against the free school meals extension?

Since last month’s parliamentary vote on the Labour Party’s motion calling for the extension of free meals over the school holidays, Conservative MPs across south west London have faced sustained criticism.

MP for Croydon South Chris Philp, MP for Sutton Paul Scully and Wimbledon’s MP Stephen Hammond were among those to vote down the motion.

Significant fury has since engulfed social media, with constituents and celebrities accusing the government of allowing children to go hungry during the pandemic.

SWL has compiled the reasons that each of these south west London Conservative MPs gave for their votes against the free school meals extension.

Stephen Hammond

The Tory MP for Wimbledon wrote on his website last week: “Labour’s motion called for Free School Meals to be provided over the school holidays until Easter 2021.”

Hammond added that the motion was not the best way to tackle child poverty, since schools are now open.

He said: “Traditionally educational establishments do not undertake the functions of social care. If one were to provide free schools meals on a permanent basis then we would have to reassess the role of schools.

“This approach would create extra work for teachers and school staff and fails to support any child who has not yet started school.

“Of course, I do not wish to see any child go hungry and have tried always to act compassionately.”

His comments come as accusations of “unprofessionalism” were levelled against his office manager Sally Hammond in response to a constituent’s enquiry. 

Chris Philp

Justifying his decision to vote against the motion, Croydon South MP Philp accused Labour of ‘political point scoring.’

He said: “Throughout this pandemic, the Government has been taking difficult decisions to help deal with the virus while Labour sit on the sidelines and try to score cheap political points.

“Free school meals are not a general welfare measure, and are aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability.

“A wide range of support is already available to help families, such as the £9 million summer holiday activities and food programme.”

South West Londoner made attempts to seek a response from Philp to clarify his comments.

His staff confirmed our messages had been received, but no responses were provided. 

Paul Scully

Asked by Labour’s Tulip Siddiq on BBC 2’s Politics Live whether he wanted to feed hungry children or not, the business minister replied: “We’ve had a situation where children have been going hungry under a Labour government for years.

“What we’ve done, we’ve put a Universal Credit system in place which allows flexibility for people to go back to work and then topping up their incomes so they don’t have the cliff edge of the old benefits system that we saw under the previous Labour government.”

A number of empty plates with handwritten messages were left outside the MP for Sutton and Cheam’s office in protest against his decision to vote against the motion. 

Many were found with messages such as “lunch is not a luxury”, “starve a kid, save a quid”, “you get a pay rise while the kids go hungry”.

Elliot Colburn

The Carshalton and Wallington MP did not vote against the motion, as he did not attend the vote.

Colburn said on Facebook: “Growing up and going to school in St Helier, I know the value of free school meals, and how important it is.

“This is why I am pleased that the Government has already provided £63m to local Councils to help ensure eligible children continue to receive this support for food and other essentials in the school holidays.”

Colburn, who was elected during the 2019 general election, has been accused by Sutton Liberal Democrats of ignoring constituents over his decision to abstain. 

South West Londoner has attempted to seek a response from Colburn on a number of occasions regarding his abstention, but has not received a response. 

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