Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson claims Government giving 'unprecedented' support to children
Bishop's Stortford's MP has finally answered her critics and explained why she voted against extending free school meals to the country's most vulnerable children during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last Wednesday night (October 21), Conservative Julie Marson was among 319 MPs who voted against a Labour motion in the House of Commons to feed pupils this half-term and during other school holidays until next Easter.
Her Harlow colleague, Robert Halfon, was one of five Tory rebels who voted with the opposition in favour of extending the holiday programme, which began in the summer in response to a campaign by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.
Her action sparked a furious response from some constituents and Hertford and Stortford Labour Party, which said she had turned her back on 1.4 million vulnerable children at a time when 32% of families have seen a drop in their income since the start of the pandemic and an extra 900,000 pupils have registered for free school meals.
Josh Dean, Hertford and Stortford Labour's youth officer, said last Thursday (Oct 22): "I want to see Julie Marson look in the eye of a struggling family in our community – or any community – and try to explain why she voted against keeping their children fed."
The same morning, the Indie asked Mrs Marson to answer her critics. She finally responded on Monday (Oct 26) after the newspaper pressed her again.
In a statement, she said: "I have not voted to take free school meals from children. I am fully committed to free school meals and this Government has expanded the eligibility for free school meals to more children than any Government in the last 50 years.
"Thanks to this Government, free school meals are offered to every child in reception, Year 1 and Year 2, to students from lower income-eligible families in further education colleges and, since the pandemic, to those children of lower-income families with no recourse to public funds.
"When schools were closed during the lockdown earlier this year, the Government acted quickly to provide food packages or vouchers to those who would otherwise have been in school. Schools are now open and free school meals are available again, frequently alongside food packages for those who are self-isolating.
"During the summer holidays, our Holiday Activities and Food Programme also provided up to 50,000 disadvantaged children with free healthy meals and other activities. We have been running these programmes around the country for the past three years because we know that some families do need extra support during the long summer holiday.
"But it is not every child who receives free school meals that needs this extra support during holiday times, and indeed the majority do not take it up, so the Government created targeted schemes to get help to where it is needed. It is right to target support at those who need it most.
"We have established a £63m local authority welfare assistance fund, of which Herts County Council has received £924,073, and strengthened the safety net of the welfare system.
"We have increased the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit by over £1,000 per year for the next 12 months.
"In total, we have injected an extra £9 billion into our welfare system for this year alone. On top of this, we have provided over £200 billion and saved more than 12 million jobs through our income and jobs protection schemes, and remain resolutely committed to supporting everyone in need at this challenging time.
"The Government is supporting families and children with unprecedented financial commitments and is working very hard to mitigate the significant impact the crisis has had on society, the economy and families in Hertfordshire and beyond."