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Tory MP tells Marcus Rashford free school meals increases ‘dependency’ on state

Conservative MPs are wading into rows with footballer and free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford amid pressure on the government to extend the programme until Easter 2021.

On Wednesday morning, the Manchester United footballer said he was “paying close attention” to a Commons vote in which Labour planned to call for an extension of the scheme, and warned minister not to “turn a blind eye” to vulnerable children.

Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, became the second MP to respond to the striker’s tweet, arguing that extending free school meals would increase “dependency” on the state.

He chided Mr Rashford, explaining that the government has “lots of responsibilities” and it was “not as simple as you to make out Marcus”.

“Extending FSM to school holidays passes responsibility for feeding kids away from parents, to the State,” he added. “It increases dependency.”

The 22-year-old campaigner responded: “Ben, the economy already pays a high price for child hunger. If children were fed properly you would increase educational attainment and boost life chances.”

He cited a study by Kelloggs that calculated at least £5.2m a year would be spent a year on lost teaching hours due to educators caring for hungry children.

“And for a more humane response, since March, 32 per cent of families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly one million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this is a cry for help. There are no jobs!!” Mr Rashford said. “250 per cent increase in food poverty and rising. Nobody said this was simple…”

Mr Bradley pressed on, replying: “This is why we expanded FSM, introduced breakfast clubs, increased school budgets and made the welfare system more generous including increasing UC [universal credit] during Covid.

“We’re doing A LOT to help the most vulnerable children, but ever-extending freebies are a sticking plaster not a solution.”

The footballer replied: “Nobody is pointing fingers, I’m asking we work together to protect our most vulnerable children dealing with the devastating effects of the pandemic. This is nothing to do with politics.”

Shortly afterwards, Mr Bradley rejected an accusation that it was an “insult” to say parents would choose not to feed their children and “depend” on the state instead, tweeting: “Some do … don’t think that’s controversial to say.

“Some parents are not good parents and prioritise other things ahead of their kids. Small minority, yes … but some do. Step out of the PC bubble and come live in the real world.”

Earlier, MP Steve Baker of Wycombe took issue with Mr Rashford’s use of the phrase “turn a blind eye”, and reprimanded him for suggesting ministers would do so.

He added: “Everyone knows feeding hungry children is a top priority. I’d like to see UC boosted. But if the economy and currency collapse, the poor will be devastated. Alleging a blind eye is just wrong.”

Boris Johnson faced continued calls from Labour MPs to extend the programme during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.

When asked if he would do so, Mr Johnson said: “Well, of course, we have free school meals throughout term time, that is entirely right.

“What we want to do is make sure that we continue to support people on low incomes throughout the crisis and that is what we’re going to do.”

A Downing Street spokeperson later indicated that currently, there was no plan to extend free school meals.

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