'Children will be hungry': Minister confronted on rejection of free school meals

21 October 2020, 21:00 | Updated: 22 October 2020, 14:43

Iain Dale confronts Northern Ireland Secretary on school meals vote

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was confronted over the government's decision to reject an opposition day motion which would feed more than one million hungry children over the school holidays.

The minister was pressed on why the Conservative Party had fought against a petition, led by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, that had the support of opposition parties and some Tory MPs.

It comes after MPs voted to reject a Labour motion, by 322 votes to 261 - a majority of 61, which aimed to give food vouchers to 1.4 million of the most disadvantaged children in the country

LBC presenter Iain Dale said offering free school meals would surely "be the right thing to do" and asked: "Why fight this fight when you don't really need to? £157 million, in the wider scheme of things, is not an awful lot of money."

Mr Lewis clarified that free school meals "are there" in schools and that ministers have put "extra money" into Universal Credit in order to provide support to families that need it.

Read more: MPs reject motion to feed 1 million children over school holidays

Iain Dale confronted Brandon Lewis on the government's rejection of free school meals
Iain Dale confronted Brandon Lewis on the government's rejection of free school meals. Picture: LBC

"We have got the right package in place. It is part of a wider package that's got the furlough scheme, the Job Support Scheme and an increase in Universal Credit," he said.

However, Iain pointed out that the furlough scheme will be finishing at the end of October and that people who live in a Tier 3 area, who are also on minimum wage, will only be taking home £5.76 an hour.

"I would challenge anyone to be able to feed a family of two or three on £5.76 an hour," he said.

The minister said the government had increased the support for people who use Universal Credit and that anyone on minimum wage would be helped by the "whole package".

"Sometimes we forget that. People focus on something very political and very emotive, and I understand that, but actually, you've got to look at what is the package we are providing," Mr Lewis said.