education

Gavin Williamson accused of letting kids go hungry over free school meals


The Education Secretary has been slated for his handling of free school meals (Picture: @RoadsideMum/Getty)

Gavin Williamson has been accused of allowing children to go hungry because of his ‘incompetence’. 

Labour claimed the Education Secretary has let parents down ‘time and time again’, ahead of a Commons debate on free school meals.

It comes as the Government continues to refuse to extend free school meals over the coming half term – despite previous U-turns under pressure from the footballer Marcus Rashford

Shadow education secretary Kate Green accused her opposite number of a ‘catalogue of chaos’ over free school meals, in the week after images of meagre parcels of food for hungry children provoked a major backlash. 

Labour will use an opposition day debate on Monday afternoon to say that eligible families should be guaranteed to receive the full value of free school meals throughout the year, including during the holidays.

Ms Green said: ‘Gavin Williamson has created a catalogue of chaos on free school meals.

‘Time and time again, he has let down the parents desperately trying to put food on the table and the children who have gone hungry through his incompetence.’

There was a major public backlash when pictures emerged of free school meals packages supposed to last for a week (Picture: @RoadsideMum/Getty)

The Commons debate comes after public outcry last week when images of boxes for children containing just £4 or £5 worth of food intended to last a week were shared online.

The firm Chartwells was widely slammed for its parcels and links to the Conservative Party.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded the parcels an insult to the families that had received them, while Home Secretary Priti Patel said they were ‘unacceptable’.

The Government faced further controversy over guidance published on the Department for Education website stating schools do not need to provide parcels or vouchers over the February half-term break.

Instead, it said families eligible for free school meals would be supported through the Government’s Covid Winter Grant Scheme run by councils.

Labour will urge MPs to vote to guarantee that children will receive the full value of free school meals – including over the February break – during Monday’s debate.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green branded Mr Williamson’s handling of the free school meals saga ‘a catalogue of chaos’ (Credits: PA)

Ms Green added: ‘(Mr Williamson) must guarantee that children will get free school meals over the February half term and put trust in parents by giving them the money for free school meals to ensure their children do not go hungry.

‘Conservative MPs will have the opportunity to vote with Labour today to finally give families the support they need to get through this crisis.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and help with other essentials such as energy and bills over February half term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.

‘Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time while children are learning. Beyond that, there is wider Government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.’

Mr Williamson has also faced criticism over schools returning after Christmas, with some pupils going back for just one day before the Government U-turned on its plan and forced teaching online.

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