Free school meals: Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson votes against holiday extension but Harlow's Robert Halfon rebels
Harlow MP Robert Halfon rebelled against the Government by voting to extend free school meals for the country's most vulnerable children over the Christmas and half term holidays.
But Bishop's Stortford's Julie Marson voted against – the day after she gave a speech in a debate on children and families in which she recalled, as a trainee magistrate, a life-changing encounter with an 18-year-old "malnourished" defendant who helped to inspire her political career.
Mr Halfon was one of five Conservatives who voted for Labour's motion to support families in need during the Covid-19 pandemic.
His Hertford and Stortford neighbour Mrs Marson, who has a teenage son, and Saffron Walden colleague Kemi Badenoch – a mother of three, including a baby last year – were among 319 MPs who voted against the provision to extend free school meals in holidays until Easter 2021, defeating the 260 in favour.
During Wednesday night's (Oct 21) debate at Westminster, Mr Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee and is a former skills minister, said: "All the evidence shows if we feed children properly we improve their educational attainment and boost their life chances. It's a no brainer."
He urged the Government to set up a long-term support plan to combat child food hunger and repeated that plea in a Facebook message to constituents, explaining his vote for the Labour motion.
Last night, at around the time of the controversial vote, Mrs Marson posted a graphic on Twitter, outlining the Government's support for families with the message "We're supporting pupils in need".
Earlier this year, a campaign by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford pressured the Government into a U-turn when it agreed to extend free school meals over the summer holidays.
The 22-year-old has been frank about his own family's reliance on free school meals when he was growing up and he has launched a new petition calling for the holiday programme to be extended this winter.
Just the day before she voted against the provision, Mrs Marson gave a speech as part of a Westminster Hall debate on children and families.
Once again she referenced the grey-faced 18-year-old defendant she encountered as she trained as a magistrate who helped to inspire her political career.
She noted that the youth was smaller than her 10-year-old son and was told he had been malnourished as a child.
She said that his appearance was an introduction to a world she had not previously been exposed to and an example of families who "do not cope in the good times, let alone the bad".
She said he was "the boy whose name I cannot remember, but whose face I cannot forget".