Anger aimed at Thanet MP as motion to extend free school meals into the holidays is rejected by government

Sharon at an award ceremony for her work to tackle food poverty, watched by Craig Mackinlay

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has been slammed as a ‘hypocrite’ by Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet boss Sharon Goodyer following the voting down of a Labour motion to provide free school meals during the holidays.

The motion – which called for the meals to be offered over school breaks until Easter 2021 –yesterday (October 21)  fell by 322 votes to 261.

Sharon, who has headed up three Summer Kitchen schemes providing free meals to families in need during the holidays with support from county councillors Barry Lewis and Karen Constantine, said she feels ‘betrayed’ by Craig Mackinlay’s vote against the motion.

Mr Mackinlay has responded to say it is ‘untrue’ to say he has voted against free school meals and branded the motion as ‘political gameplaying.’ He said an amended motion, which he supported, outlined the help government is already giving to families in need.

Sharon, pictured at the Summer Kitchen, Photo David Stillman

Sharon said: “I feel so betrayed. We were in Parliament together a year or so ago collecting an award for the Our Kitchen work and when I received the Prime Minster’s Point of Light for our work with families during the pandemic Craig sent me a lovely card and said how he thought the work was so valuable. What a hypocrite, it is the definition of hypocrisy to say one thing and then do another.

“He has let down Thanet children. The government will say they put enough money into the system for families through benefits but we have an 11% and rising unemployment rate, generations of struggle and, since February, and increasing level of hardship for families. There is only so much these young families can take.”

Inside Our Shop Photo Caroline Dyal

Sharon and volunteers now run Our Shop in Margate which is a food club offering low priced, healthy food and teaches nutrition and cooking skills.

She said: “I have 200 families signed up and that isn’t even touching the sides. This has been supported by district council, county council, Sustain and the lottery, we are all pulling together but the government has let us down.”

The motion for free ‘school’ meals during holiday periods followed pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford, for Government to support vulnerable children.

According to the Food Foundation more than 1.4 million children experience food insecurity during the holidays and 6.3 percent of children are worried about going hungry during the upcoming October half-term.

Craig Mackinlay

Mr Mackinlay said: “To suggest that I voted against free school meals… is untrue. The original motion, put by Labour as part of their regular ‘Opposition Day debate’ opportunities, are an entrenched feature of our Parliamentary system and are designed to be purely political and often follow the ‘mother and apple pie’ formula of looking so reasonable that they couldn’t possibly be opposed.

“Such motions, even if carried, have no statutory basis and don’t become new law; it is the role of government to bring to Parliament new law and spending plans which Parliament can then consider soberly. Such Opposition Day motions are never supported by whichever governing party. This is all part of the weft and weave of our system.

“The motion put by Labour was amended (as is commonplace) with the consent of the House of Commons to the following and was carried, including my vote:

“That this House notes that schools are now fully operational following the covid-19 outbreak, and will continue to offer free school meals in term time; welcomes the substantial support provided by the Government to children worth £550 million annually; further welcomes that this support has been bolstered by almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments; notes that eligible families have also been supported throughout lockdown through the receipt of meal vouchers worth £380 million while schools were partially closed, alongside the Holiday Activities and Food Fund; and further supports the Government in its ongoing activities to help the most vulnerable children in society.”

“We can obviously have a debate about the extent to which government should spend across the nation on the essentials of life but we do have an advanced, detailed and comprehensive system of benefits and support even outside of Covid problems.

“Indeed the UK has offered more funding across job and business supporting schemes, to councils, the health service and other agencies as well as additional support to those on benefits than any other advanced nation across this crisis.

“I hope this explains the situation and offers a little insight into the oddities and political gameplaying that happens in Parliament.”

Karen Constantine

Following the motion County Councillor Karen Constantine has challenged Mr Mackinlay to live on Universal Credit rates for one month.

She said: “It seems our local MP really doesn’t understand the link between low income and food poverty. Child poverty is a scourge and could start to be eliminated at the stroke of a pen.

“Instead of rising to this challenge of dealing with Thanet’s child poverty and child hunger epidemic, our local MP has buried his head in the sand. If he tried to exist on Universal Credit for a month and experienced first-hand the difficulties, he’d soon take action to reverse food poverty.”

Summer Kitchen team including Sharon Goodyer (front) and Cllr Barry Lewis Photo Caroline Dyal

Fellow county councillor Barry Lewis added: “In conjunction with Sharon Goodyer, I will redouble my efforts to negate the horrendous decision by the Conservatives, including Craig Mackinlay, not to feed children duringthe Christmas holidays. Our children must be our first priority. I highlighted this problem three years ago wth the Summer Kitchen project with the purpose of alleviating child poverty.”

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale did not vote on the motion.

Child poverty statistics

Thanet has the second highest child poverty rates in the south of England and the highest in Kent, according to a report released by Loughborough University on behalf of coalition End Child Poverty.

According to the research some 37% of youngsters aged under 16 on the isle are living below the poverty line after housing costs – equating to 9943 children. The ‘poverty line’ is defined as household income (adjusted to account for household size,) that  is less than 60% of the median income.

Local authority % of children below 60% median income AHC
AHC BHC %age point difference (2014/15 – 2018/19
UK Average 30% 20% 10%
Hastings 37.8% 25.5% 12.3%
Thanet 37.0% 24.7% 12.3%
Southampton 34.7% 21.5% 13.2%
Dover 34.0% 21.4% 12.6%
Portsmouth 33.2% 20.3% 12.9%
Isle of Wight 32.7% 20.4% 12.3%
Slough 32.7% 18.5% 14.2%
Torridge 32.6% 19.8% 12.8%
Eastbourne 32.6% 19.7% 12.9%
Gravesham 32.5% 19.3% 13.2%

 

In 2014/15 there were 34.9% of children in Thanet defined as living in poverty (after housing costs) compared to 37% in 2018/19. Data at ward level has not been released in the Loughborough report.

Separate data from Kent County Council shows 21.4% of Thanet children -5745- being defined as living in absolute low income households (before housing costs) – the highest level in Kent. KCC data does include some ward detail and shows almost half of the wards in Thanet (47.8%) and Dover (42.9%) are within the 20% of wards in Kent with the highest proportion of children in absolute low income families.

The government had bowed to pressure to extended free meals over the summer holidays, but says the ‘primary responsibility’ lays with parents and passing that responsibility to the state ‘increases dependency.’