Boris Johnson today hinted at another climbdown on free school meals during holidays as furious Tories accused him of ‘shooting himself in both feet’ by bungling the policy.
The PM insisted he was ‘very proud’ of the way the government had supported families during the pandemic, including handing £63million extra to councils and increasing universal credit.
But Mr Johnson also sounded a conciliatory tone in the face of the campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, vowing children would not go hungry due to government ‘inattention’.
‘We don’t want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas. Certainly not as a result of any inattention by the government – and you are not going to see that,’ he told reporters on a visit to a hospital in Berkshire.
Mr Johnson also confirmed that he has not spoken to England star Rashford since June, when the government staged its first humiliating U-turn, despite claims from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that they had been ‘communicating’.
The government is scrambling to find a way out of the damaging standoff, with Tory MPs furious at the ‘shockingly inept’ handling and threatening to help Labour change the policy unless a solution is found for Christmas. Extending the free school meals scheme to cover holidays would cost about £20million per week.
One furious backbencher told MailOnline the PM’s advisors setting up a photo opportunity today with him doling out sausage sandwiches was an example of the disastrous PR, raging that it was ‘one cock up after another’.
A petition by Premier League footballer Rashford calling for funding of free school meals during holidays has gathered around 900,000 signatures.
Hundreds of cafes, businesses, charities and volunteers have been pitching in by offering food for distribution to those in need.
Meanwhile, protesters have been leaving empty plates outside local Conservative offices, while Rishi Sunak and other senior politicians have been banned from some firms in their constituencies.
The row escalated on another helter-skelter day of coronavirus developments including:
- Welsh ministers have apologised after a ‘trolley police’ crackdown led to Tesco wrongly telling women they could not buy sanitary towels because they were ‘non-essential’ items;
- Matt Hancock has fuelled hopes self-isolation will be slashed to seven days, despite Nicola Sturgeon saying she has ‘no plans’ to do so;
- The UK’s outbreak has slowed significantly since the start of the month, suggesting the latest suite of lockdown restrictions are successfully flattening the second curve.
Boris Johnson posed in a canteen at a hospital today as the row over free school meals provision during holidays raged
The PM enjoyed a cup of tea at Royal Berkshire Hospital as he was accused of failing to stop vulnerable children going hungry
Marcus Rashford, who is reported to earn £200,000 a week at Manchester United but struggled to get enough food as a child, arrives at the club for training today
However, Rashford seemed unaware of the contact from Mr Johnson, suggesting on Twitter they had not spoken since a previous U-turn in June
Mr Johnson is facing a growing Tory backlash over the free school meals row as numerous backbenchers call on the Government to U-turn
The Prime Minister appeared to be in good spirits during his visit to the Royal Berkshire Hospital this morning despite the ongoing row
Staff at the Rumour Cafe in Sheerness, Kent, prepare free school meals for children over the half term holidays today
Sandwiches being made at The Watering Can in Greenbank Park, Liverpool, for distribution to children during the school holidays
Businesses and local charities step in to provide free meals
Businesses and local charities have been stepping in to offer free meals for children during the holidays.
Keith Perryman, owner of the Watering Can cafe in Greenbank Park, Liverpool, said they had prepared 100 packed lunches, with sandwiches, crisps, soft drinks, biscuits and fruit, this morning.
He said anyone in need could come into the cafe between 12pm and 2pm and any leftover meals would be taken to a local school which would help to distribute them.
‘If anyone is embarrassed about asking for free lunches we’ve come up with the codeword ‘Frank’, who is our dog, so if people ask for Frank we can provide them with the free lunches.’
He said the business had set aside £2,000 for the meals but had been inundated with donations since they had announced their plans and were planning to use the extra money for a similar scheme over the Christmas holidays.
Paul West, 58, the owner of Rumour cafe in Sheerness, Kent, is offering free breakfasts for children over the holiday when they come in with a parent before 10.30am.
He said: ‘I just think generally as a local business I think we have a responsibility for our community because first of all it’s our community that pays our wages.
‘It’s good promotion for us, it gives us a good name and it’s an opportunity to give something back.
‘We know everyone’s feeling the pinch at the moment and it’s not easy and if we can take the pressure off parents that’s just one small thing that helps them out.’
Free meals are being provided at the Midland Mencap community centre in Weoley Castle, Birmingham, which was given more than £1,000 in donations to buy food over the weekend.
A mother-of-three coming to collect a bag of food for the week, and who gave her name as Aisha, said: ‘It’s amazing. It’s a godsend actually, because I have been struggling.’
After seeing Marcus Rashford’s online campaign, she had to find the Mencap centre by searching the Government’s website.
She said: ‘The vouchers over the summer helped so much.
‘The Government has spent billions so how can they not now help children who are hungry?’
Former ministers are leading a Conservative revolt on free school meals as they warned the PM he must think up ‘something better’.
Downing Street sources have suggested that work is being done on more support for eligible pupils outside of school term time – however, as half-term is already under way it is unlikely to come before the Christmas holidays.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Hancock said he understood Mr Johnson and Rashford had been in touch.
‘There has been communication between the two, as far as I understand it,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘We have all seen what Marcus Rashford has done, and the way he has conducted himself in this campaign I think is absolutely exemplary.
‘He is making an argument based on his personal experience for the benefit of people who really need that support.’
But Rashford seemed bemused by the claim, responding on Twitter: ‘Hmm, unless he’s referring to the call we had following the u-turn in June?’
And Mr Johnson said later: ‘I haven’t spoken to Marcus since June but what he is doing is terrific.
‘We support the local councils – indeed we fund the local councils and many of the organisations that are helping in this period – but we are also uplifting Universal Credit by £1,000 and we think that is one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time.
‘I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it.
‘The debate is how do you deal with it. We are very proud of the support we have given, I have said repeatedly throughout this crisis that the government will support families and businesses, jobs and livelihoods, across the country.
‘We’re going to continue to do that.’
Tories are seething even more privately than in public, as the PM is accused of ‘one cock up after another’.
One furious MP told MailOnline they blamed Dominic Cummings for the failure to win support for the policy.
‘This wonderful guru who is a great tactician. Oh yeah? Explain all the cock ups we have had, one after another. He will bring Boris down. He has got to go,’ the MP said.
‘I would have been difficult to plan such a cock up. It’s got to go down as the worst communications. They have provided the money, done all the right things – but you wouldn’t know that.’
The MP pointed to the photo op today of Mr Johnson doling out sausage sandwiches as an example of a disastrous PR move.
‘They have found a way to shoot themselves in both feet at the same time, while doing the right thing on policy,’ they said.
The Tory added that if Mr Johnson swallowed his pride he could still defuse the situation.
Manchester United star Rashford has used his social media profile to highlight examples of businesses and councils that have pledged to help with meals for local children
‘You would have thought the PM would have met Rashford and said this is really good, this is what we have done,’ the MP said.
‘But they hate being told they have done something wrong. They have to be forced kicking and screaming.
‘They are going to do some kind of U-turn. They just don’t know how to do it. There is no political nous.’
Another MP pointed out that the messaging had been disastrous, even though the policy was broadly right.
‘We were badly late with the messaging, so when the PM says kids won’t go hungry because of the extra funding and the Universal Credit £1,000 uplift it is being drowned out,’ they said.
Louise Redknapp spent today preparing meals at the Schoolhouse Bar Restaurant in Battersea, South West London
Louise Redknapp helps out at the Schoolhouse Bar Restaurant in Battersea, South West London, this morning
Shop owner bans local Tory MP
The owner of a running shop has banned a Tory MP for life for ‘voting to starve children’.
Ian Bailey, owner of The Runners Centre in Lancaster, Lancashire, has barred local MP David Morris after he voted not to extend free school meals over half term.
‘I don’t want his business and I don’t want any other Tory MP’s business or any politician who voted against feeding the neediest,’ the 58-year-old said.
‘Everybody’s suffering with this pandemic… for the Government to vote against a basic principle of feeding minors is just so far below the belt.’
But Mr Morris dismissed the ban from a ‘shop I never knew existed and have never been in’. He said Labour was engaged in a ‘cynical’ attack despite funding being available for school meals.
Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak and three other Conservative MPs were banned from The Mill pub in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, over their vote against extending free school meals.
‘It would probably have been way cheaper to have given the voucher to be honest. And now we will probably end up with both.’
Another despairing MP complained that the row had galvanised left-wing activists in their constituency and they were now being ‘hounded’.
‘It is our own bloody fault because the communications haven’t been done properly,’ the MP said.
‘It has got to the position where the backbenches are fighting and the front bench has gone quiet.’
The MP said that the government desperately needed Rishi Sunak or someone else to go into bat for the policy.
‘They’ve not got anyone with the right optics,’ they moaned.
Asked during his round of broadcast interviews earlier whether urgent extra government measures are needed on free school meals, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, I accept and I strongly believe that we should all come together to ensure that no child should go hungry.
‘That’s the central insight behind what Marcus Rashford is arguing for, and I think he’s making the case just with such strong eloquence and speaking authentically from personal experience, and I think that’s something that we should all get behind.’
He added: ‘I think that working together with central government providing funding, which we’ve done, the councils often know on the ground how best to get to the children who need support most and people as individuals.’
Pressure was heaped on Mr Johnson yesterday as Labour leader Keir Starmer announced that he will force another Commons vote on the issue before Christmas.
And senior Conservatives made clear they could line up behind the motion this time, with some saying they ‘regretted’ supporting the government in a decision last week.
Former children’s minister and Tory MP Tim Loughton called on the Government to extend free school meals through half term and ‘probably’ into the Christmas holidays.
He told BBC 5Live today: ‘It’s not a matter of a U-turn. The Government has given unprecedented amounts of money during the pandemic.
‘The total bill is now over £215bn, of which a large amount is on welfare measures, not least a £20 extra on Universal Credit which is really, really welcome.
‘Let’s just do it over half term and probably into Christmas and that would continue doing a lot of good.
Staff prepare free lunch bags for collection at Pho in Bristol today, which is providing free school meals for children
A chef prepares food for free lunch bags at Pho in Bristol today as they provide free school meals for children
A staff member wearing a face mask prepares lunch bags for collection at Pho in Bristol today
Collette Roche, Manchester United Chief Operating Officer (left), John Shiels, Manchester United Foundation, Chief Executive (centre) and Miranda Kaunang, FareShare Greater Manchester – Head of Development, preparing food at Old Trafford today
Collette Roche and John Shiels of Manchester United preparing food in the kitchens at Old Trafford today
‘I think it’s just so much easier, it’s a simple and effective method that you carry on free schools meals.’
The East Worthing and Shoreham MP added that there is a ‘concern’ in Government that the funding would be open-ended and added that he does want it to become a ‘permanent commitment’.
Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council Izzi Seccombe said the council had a £500,000 scheme through the Covid-19 period to help those who are in need.
A boy leaves Weoley Community Centre after collecting free packed lunches that are being given out in Birmingham today
Staff and volunteers at the The Plough pub in Homerton, East London, prepare sandwiches as part of the effort to provide free school meals today
Staff and volunteers at the The Plough pub in Homerton, East London, prepare free school meals for children today
A child collects packed lunch bags from the Watering Can, in Greenbank Park, Liverpool, today
‘Through this scheme we will be able to support those in need next week through the free school meal offer and we’ve committed to Christmas as well,’ she said.
Families need urgent cash boost to spare 700,000 children from living below poverty line
Families must be given an urgent cash boost if up to 700,000 children are to be spared from living below the poverty line during the coronavirus pandemic, a new report warns.
Doubling child benefit payments or raising universal credit and tax credits for children would make a ‘life-changing difference’ to the poorest households, say the IPPR think tank and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
The Government must also invest in childcare as part of a family stimulus package that would help boost the economy through higher household spending as parents continue working, they urge.
The researchers looked at two ways to boost cash to families as unemployment rises, both of which they say would significantly reduce poverty.
Doubling child benefits would lift more than 500,000 children and 200,000 adults out of poverty, and boost GDP by £19 billion over 18 months, considering the impact of additional spending, they estimate.
And increasing the child element of Universal Credit by £20 a week per child and removing the two-child limit would lift more than 700,000 children and 300,000 adults out of poverty.
This would boost GDP by £15 billion over 18 months, they estimate.
Asked if the Government funding in June had been spent, she said: ‘Yes we’ve spent that money, as I say over half-a-million pounds has been spent already.’
Asked if local government would be able to further fund free school meals, she added: ‘It’s tight. We are going to be funding it ourselves now because there isn’t money in there to support it, so we will be trying to find it from other sources.’
She told the Today programme: ‘I think the main thing for us is what we don’t want is people within Warwickshire feeling anxious, feeling worried and children going hungry during this half-term period. We have a scheme, we can support it – well we’ll find means of supporting it – and for that it will help people to get over this particular week.
She added: ‘It’s all about priorities isn’t it… we think it is a priority for us.’
The government’s own Social Mobility Commission released a statement today urging more action.
‘We know that the current pandemic is having its greatest impact on the poorest regions in Britain where people are already struggling to afford food for their families,’ it said.
‘Our recent report – The Long Shadow of Deprivation – identified some of the ‘coldest’ social mobility spots in the country and many of these are now in the higher tiers of Covid restrictions.
‘Our earlier research this year showed that 600,000 more children are in poverty than in 2012.
‘We believe the government should do all it can to start reversing that trend. It should begin by ensuring that all children are properly fed.
‘But it needs to go much further. We now need a much more ambitious programme to combat child poverty.’
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ’Warm words from Boris Johnson will do nothing for the over 1.4 million children at risk of going hungry this half term that he and his MPs refused to help last week.
‘Labour will not not give up on the children and families let down by this government, and we will hold the Prime Minister to his word, forcing another vote in Parliament if necessary.
‘The government must now make children a national priority, and ensure that no child goes hungry.’
Sausage, mince and eggs are prepared to go into food parcels at Angus Morton Butchers in Richmond, North Yorkshire, today
Vikki Long from the Barkers of Richmond fish and chip shop in North Yorkshire prepares a serving for children today
Dom Palacio, Head of Community at Richmond Rugby, delivers meals to local school children living in a block of flats on the Ivybridge estate in Twickenham, South West London, today
A chef from the St Giles Trust Brewbird cafe prepares hot food packages for people in need of free school meals, in London today
Volunteers from Richmond Rugby prepare to deliver meals to local school children in Twickenham today
Empty plate protest outside Tory MPs’ office
Dozens of empty plates were left outside a Conservative MP’s office to protest over the party voting against plans to extend free school meals over holidays.
The protest was organised by the All Rise Collective, a group of inclusive feminist allies in the community, and targeted the constituency office of Southend West MP Sir David Amess.
Sir David was one of 322 MPs who last week voted against a Labour motion calling for the extension of free meals during the school holidays in England until Easter 2021.
Locals wrote messages on empty plates and left them outside the Southend West Conservative Association building on Sunday, with queues of people waiting to participate stretching down the street.
‘Quite a few of us are mothers in the group, the moment you start thinking too much about them ever being hungry, it’s just heartbreaking,’ organiser Sadie Hasler, 40, from Southend said.
‘The situations people find themselves in are just unbearable. The stigma that comes with maybe being a single parent, and trying to do the best thing by your child, and society just kind of constantly wants to keep elbowing you in the ribs for it.’
Cafe owners and restaurateurs across England are stepping up to provide tasty free meals for children over half term.
Businesses from all over the country have followed Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals and are digging in to help.
A mother-of-three, one of many people already benefiting, said the support was a ‘godsend’ after struggling during the pandemic.
It comes as the Government faces growing pressure to perform a second U-turn over the funding of free school meals in the holidays.
One business stepping up is Midland Mencap Community Centre in Weoley Castle, Birmingham which was given more than £1,000 in donations to buy food over the weekend.
Coming to collect a bag of food for the week, mother-of-three Aisha said: ‘It’s amazing. It’s a godsend actually, because I have been struggling.
‘The vouchers over the summer helped so much.
‘The Government has spent billions so how can they not now help children who are hungry?’
The 32-year-old, who has a three-year-old son and two daughters, aged 13 and 11, said: ‘I am usually really good with my budget.
‘Their father, who I’m divorced from, usually pays for their uniforms but he got ill and he couldn’t work, so I bought them this time.
‘But the £200 I used came from money I use to pay my bills, because the school said if I brought in the receipts I could get some help from them.
‘I did that – but it’s been seven or eight weeks now, and I haven’t heard anything back from the school, so I’m struggling.’
Paul West, 58, owns Rumour cafe in Sheerness, Kent, and is offering free breakfasts for children over the holiday.
He said: ‘I just think generally as a local business I think we have a responsibility for our community because first of all it’s our community that pays our wages.’
Mr West, a grandfather, praised his staff and said the idea to provide the free meals came from manager Dawn Grain.
Mr West added: ‘We don’t want it to be a political thing; that’s not what it is for us, this is just us helping out.’
Kieron Wilson, an independent councillor in Bournemouth, Dorset, is making and delivering packed lunches for local children by himself over the school half-term.
‘I worked out that I can make and deliver 40 lunches a day,’ the 25-year-old said.
‘The demand has now thankfully and rightly been covered by the council … which is really fantastic.’
Meanwhile in Liverpool, 100 packed lunches have been prepared at The Watering Can cafe in Greenbank Park on Monday morning.
Owner Keith Perryman said anyone in need could come into the cafe between 12pm and 2pm and any leftover meals would be taken to a local school which would help to distribute them.
He added: ‘If anyone is embarrassed about asking for free lunches we’ve come up with the codeword ‘Frank’, who is our dog, so if people ask for Frank we can provide them with the free lunches.’
Sarah Marriott, co-manager of the Brunch Box sandwich shop in Deal, Kent, said the response to their free meals offer has been ‘overwhelming’.
She said: ‘In light of the recent Government changes we just thought we would try and help out and do our bit.
‘We have done a lot of (food) bags today – literally put them on a table in the doorway so that people don’t have to feel embarrassed.
‘They can just roll up, take what they need and nothing needs to be said about it.’
Ms Marriot, 38, runs the sandwich shop with friend Emma McIntyre.
As Tory angst built yesterday, Liaison Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin warned that the Government has ‘misunderstood’ the mood of the country over free school meals.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I think we have to admit that we have misunderstood the mood of the country here.
‘The public want to see the Government taking a national lead on this. I think the Government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there’s going to be more votes in the House of Commons.
‘When you have got the chairman of the Education Select Committee (Robert Halfon) not supporting the Government on this – and he’s a Conservative – I think that the Government has to listen to the Conservative Party.’
Asked how he would vote in any further Commons divisions, Sir Bernard said: ‘I shall wait to see what the Government says and how they respond to the situation.’
Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood was asked on Times Radio if he regretted voting with the government last week.
England star Marcus Rashford helped out at FareShare in Greater Manchester last week as he continued his campaign
Pressure was heaped on Mr Johnson yesterday as Labour leader Keir Starmer announced that he will force another Commons vote on the issue soon
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