The top Tory MP married to coronavirus Test and Trace chief Dido Harding blasted “chaotic parents” who send their children “to school without breakfast so they can’t concentrate properly”.
Former Cabinet Office Minister John Penrose, 56, made the comments in a letter to a constituent who wanted to know why he voted against extending free school meals for hungry kids in the holidays – a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.
In Mr Penrose’s reply, which was posted on Twitter, he rejected “sticking plaster solutions” which “increase dependency”.
He added: “Practical measures which make a genuine difference to the causes of poverty include things like the Pupil Premium, which gives schools extra funding for disadvantaged pupils; breakfast clubs, which help children with chaotic parents who send them to school without breakfast so they can’t concentrate properly”.
The comments come after a fellow backbench Tory MP, Ben Bradley, last week triggered fury by linking free school meals with “crack dens” and “brothels”.
Speaking about Mr Penrose’s remarks, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: “It is completely unacceptable for a Conservative MP to blame parents for the challenges created by his own Government’s chronic incompetence.
“Children are at risk of going hungry because of a decade of stagnant wages and cuts to social security.
“Not only have the Conservatives voted against helping these children, they are now blaming their parents.
“It is not too late to do the right thing and extend free school meals over Christmas.”
Challenged about his comments, Mr Penrose said: “I’m afraid this says more about the small anti-Tory prejudices of a couple of local Labour activists than about what’s really in my letter, which is clearly about how breakfast clubs can be a valuable way of dealing with one of the causes of poverty, not about everybody else who uses breakfast clubs too.”
MP Mr Penrose, who has represented Weston-super-Mare since 2005, has been married to Conservative peer Baroness Harding for 25 years.
According to parliamentary records, he once owned a share of a house in France.
Earlier this year(2020), the Mirror revealed his links to a right-wing group calling for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system.
He said in May he was “delighted” to join the advisory board of 1828, but did not agree with everything it published.