Harrogate MP hits back in free school meals row as Lib Dems launch petition
Andrew Jones MP said: "When the pandemic began it was critical that support went to those who needed it and that support reached them fast.
"I supported getting more cash to those who needed it by increasing how much Universal Credit people got.
"At the time I understood this increase – worth £1000 a year – was to support people on low incomes and to pay for meals for children through the holidays while schools were closed and the pandemic was still severely disrupting everyday life.
“That additional support is still being paid and will be paid through to next Easter."
The MP's fightback comes after main opposition party in the district - Harrogate and Knaresborough Lib Dems - announced their own campaign to extend free school meals amid claims from some in the national press of an "Oliver Twist" like attitude from the Government.
The Lib Dems have now launched a new online petition calling on both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council to extend free school meals, not just for the autumn half term, but also Christmas in order that "no child living in poverty misses out - even during holidays and lockdown."
The petition at www.https://www.hklibdems.org.uk/meals says: "If the Government won't ensure that our children won’t go hungry over school holidays, then we need our local council to do the right thing and step in to extend the school meal scheme.
"Local children are going hungry. We can't let them down."
Mr Jones has come under fire from some Harrogate Advertiser readers this week for being among the 321 Tory MPs who voted against a Labour Party motion in the House of Commons for the Government to directly fund free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021.
But the Harrogate MP, who has won three sizable victories in a row in the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat since 2010, said asking Parliament "to vote to provide the same thing twice" simply made no sense.
Mr Jones said: "I was struck how last week's motion from the Labour Party calling for the Government to spend taxpayers' money on food vouchers for children to use in the school holidays until next Easter did not mention that the increased budget to support families in this way was already in place.
“I have voted to increase benefits or assistance to anyone who needs it and done so many times.
"In fact, for several years a member of my team, until the pandemic struck, has been attending both weekly sessions of Harrogate Foodbank to offer support to anyone having problems accessing benefits or budgeting.
"I don’t think there has been one case where we were unable to help.
"In this case, MPs were, in fact, being asked to vote for taxpayers to pay for the same thing twice.
“Asking Parliament to vote to provide the same thing twice while ignoring the billions of pounds of extra support already given – while it has been a political bullseye for the Labour Party – is not to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves."
At a national level, in the face of fierce Opposition criticism and mounting public pressure, most notably from Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, the Government has so far held firm, with only five rebel Tories supporting the extension of free school meals in last week's vote in the Commons.
But leading Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, Chairman of the Liaison Committee , now says the Government has "misunderstood" the public mood over the issue.
And the Labour Party has said it intends to bring the issue of free schools meals during holidays back to the House of Commons before Christmas, if the Government does not reverse its policy.
Andrew Jones MP told the Harrogate Advertiser that he stands ready to try to help anyone among his constitutents who cannot afford to feed their children.
And he is asking anyone concerned to get in touch with him.
Mr Jones said: "My team and I, alongside local councils, voluntary groups and charities, will continue to provide support accessing benefits and budgeting to anyone who feels they cannot afford to feed their children during the school holidays.
"They can contact me on 01423 529614 or email [email protected].
"To date no one has contacted me in this situation but I stand ready to help if they do so.
"Any contact with my office is completely confidential and we will only contact others to request support with the constituent’s permission.”
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