PM 'to increase funds for poorest families' amid free school meals row

26 October 2020, 07:30

Restaurants across the country offered free school meals to kids over half term
Restaurants across the country offered free school meals to kids over half term. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson is said to be planning to increase funding for the poorest families over Christmas in an attempt to head off a damaging revolt over free school meals.

Allies of the Prime Minister told the Times was under way on providing additional support for eligible pupils outside term time.

There was no immediate response to the reports from Downing Street.

Such a move is likely to be seen as a partial climbdown by the Government in the wake of a damaging vote which raised questions over the government's handling of the issue.

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Anger is growing on the Tory benches as more MPs speak out against Government.

Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes said there had to be a change of tack.

"I don't think there's any doubt about them having to take another look at it. I think it has to be quick and I think it has to be very very clear," she said.

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.

Despite the growing pressure, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis - who was sent out to defend the Government's position over the weekend - insisted ministers were providing support to families struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that Universal Credit had been increased while £63 million was being provided to local authorities to help people in their communities at a time of hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, senior Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin warned the Government had "misunderstood the mood of the country" and would probably have to think again.

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.