Burnley MP slammed over decision to vote against extending free school meals for vulnerable

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham has been drawn into a political war of words after voting against the extension of free school meals for vulnerable children.

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 3:56 pm

The Tory MP sided with the Government last night in voting down the Labour motion, but faced a barrage of criticism from Labour supporters.

Mr Higginbotham was one of 322 MPs who voted to reject Labour's motion - which called for free school meals to be offered over the school holidays until Easter 2021 - against 261 votes.

Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford brought the issue to the forefront of national politics when he campaigned earlier in the year to support vulnerable children following his own experiences as a child, efforts which have just earned him an MBE.

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

His latest petition had been signed by 358 people in Burnley’s constituency on Tuesday, urging the Government to provide more help to children at risk of going hungry.

During the summer the Government was forced to U-turn on the policy of not providing food to children during the summer holidays after a raft of public pressure.

Following the vote, Mr Higginbotham said that ultimate responsibility for feeding children lay with parents rather than the state.

He said: "Tonight we've been debating free schools meals in Parliament and how we support helping families on low incomes.

"We all know the responsibility for a child rests with the parent. And I'm firmly of the view that if that parent is struggling or cannot properly feed their children then we all jointly step in, through the Government, to help. That's the purpose of free schools meals.

"But in my view the state should never take over the parent - they should assist when the parent faces troubled times. And that's exactly what we have done.

"I'm proud to live in a country that looks out for each other in that way but I cannot and will not subscribe to the idea that the Government does everything. Individual responsibility is important, as is avoiding an increasing dependency a small minority in the political class would want."

Mr Higginbotham also pointed out that the Government had pledged £9 billion into the welfare system and given free school meals for 1.4 million children from low income families.

Labour Burnley Coun. Afrasiab Anwar Tweeted his anger over Mr Higginbotham's decision writing: "So the Burnley MP who a week ago claimed to speak for Burnley and posed for photos at local foodbank tonight voted against feeding hungry children. He was quite happy to support his mate pay 50% for restaurant meals for those who could afford it!!"

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt. Rev Philip North also Tweeted in favour of the bid to extend free school meals and said excuses around dependency were "ill-informed and insensitive".

He Tweeted: "The dependency argument about free school meals might have strength in normal times. But we’re in the middle of a global pandemic where workplace instability is causing a chilling wave of hunger. In such circumstances using it is ill-informed and insensitive."