Labour’s motion was defeated by 322 votes to 261 in the House of Commons last night (Wednesday October 21).
It called for the extension of free school meal vouchers into the holidays until Easter 2021 for families in receipt of Universal Credit or an equivalent benefit.
The issue has been spearheaded in recent months by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, leading to a government U-turn on providing support during the summer holiday.
Only three Sussex MPs voted for the motion: Labour’s Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell Moyle in Brighton and Hove, as well as Eastbourne’s Conservative MP Caroline Ansell who resigned from her ministerial post.
East Worthing and Shoreham’s Conservative MP Tim Loughton and Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas did note vote.
Ms Lucas was paired with a Tory MP, which was why she did not cast a vote.
The Sussex Conservative MPs who voted against were: Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Mims Davies (Mid Sussex), Nus Ghani (Wealden), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton), Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs), Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye), Gillian Keegan (Chichester), Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle), Jeremy Quin (Horsham) and Henry Smith (Crawley).
Labour’s Kate Green, shadow education secretary, said it was the government’s responsibility to ensure children do not go hungry and ‘they do not stop being hungry just because the school bell rings for the end of term’.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson described real challenges around youngsters and tackling poverty, but felt the best way to tackle them was through the welfare system and supporting people into work as ‘the best route out of poverty’.
He added: “Free school meals are, and always have been, about supporting children with a meal to help them to learn when they are at school or, indeed, currently at home learning. However, it is our support through universal credit and our comprehensive welfare system that supports families.”
After the vote, Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council Peter Lamb added his voice in support of extending free school meals.
He said: “Crawley’s economy is suffering the impact of COVID-19 harder than anywhere else in the country, the government’s unwillingness to support the aviation sector having cost the town thousands of jobs with thousands more at risk. Now more than ever we need support for low-income families to ensure the mistakes of the government don’t force children to go hungry.”
Meanwhile James MacCleary, the Lib Dems’ Parliamentary spokesman in Lewes, questioned why the government had found billions to fund other projects but ‘will not find the relatively small amount to fund this’.
He said: “As a parent of a primary school child, I cannot imagine what it feels like to be in such desperate need and deemed to be unworthy of support as if my family and their needs don’t matter.”