Petition to end 'free meals' for MPs gathers hundreds of thousands of signatures in 24 hours

Emily Cleary
·4-min read
House of Commons and Palace of Westminster next to Thames river in London.
Bars and restaurants in the Houses of Parliament run at a loss. A petition to change this has gathered more than 252,000 signatures in 24 hours (Getty images)

A petition calling for the end of subsidised meals for MPs has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures in its first 24 hours.

The campaign, set up by Portia Lawrie, a freelance writer and textile designer, from Essex, calls for “an end to the practice of paying expenses to MPs for food and drink”.

It says: “We the electorate demand an end to the practice of paying expenses to MPs for food and drink; and that any and all food and drink in parliamentary establishments be chargeable to MPs at market rates.”

The petition has received more than 600,000 signatures and the figure is rapidly climbing.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson eats a portion of pie on the campaign bus after a visit to the Red Olive catering company in Derby, Britain December 11, 2019 on the final day of campaigning before a general election. Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS
MPs can claim the cost of meals bought outside of London or their constituency as Parliamentary expenses (Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS)

Lawrie told Yahoo News UK: “I wanted to make a point about hypocrisy and hold up a mirror to those MPs that saw fit to vote against feeding hungry children; whilst simultaneously feeding themselves at the expense of the taxpayer.

“I was so angry that MPs had rejected the opportunity, and Marcus Rashford's campaign, to extend free school meals into the school holiday. As a mother myself, and someone who has been through similar financial hardship in the past, both as a child and an adult, it just really struck a chord with me; and clearly with many others too.

“I've honestly been astonished at the level of support this petition is getting which shows clearly that public opinion is not on the side of those MPs or convinced by their protests that they have already done enough to help the poorest in society. If they had, we wouldn't be having this conversation and there wouldn't be an explosion of foodbanks in the fifth richest economy in the world.

“Enough is enough. This is not who we are as a country.”

MPs currently receive an annual salary of £79,468 and in addition can claim publicly-funded expenses “for expenditure for parliamentary purposes” which cover, in certain circumstances, housing, travel, food, iPads and telephone calls.

MPs are also allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss and so are effectively subsidised with public money.

UK politicians are also entitled to food expenses (up to £25 per night) if they stay overnight outside of both their constituency and the London area, though they cannot use their expenses to buy alcohol either in their office or while they’re travelling.

On Wednesday, 322 Tory MPs voted against a measure to extend free school meals for the country’s poorest children over the half-term and winter school holidays.

Tabled by Labour, Conservative MPs voted against the scheme by 322 votes to 261. The blow came after England footballer Marcus Rashford, who received free school meals as a child, petitioned the government to extend the scheme to cover upcoming school holidays.

Rashford recently praised the Welsh government for committing £11 million towards providing free meals for the most vulnerable children in the country.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring their 1st goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Footballer Marcus Rashford has lobbied the government to provide free meals for Britain's most vulnerable children throughout the coronavirus crisis (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

In Scotland, the government has allocated £10 million to enable councils to continue providing free school meals through the winter breaks with future funding confirmed to extend support over Easter.

On Friday Rashford highlighted a string of businesses across the country who are handing out free school meals during the October half term after MPs voted against extending the scheme during the holiday.

Rashford, who is spearheading a campaign to end child food poverty, said he was “blown away” by news of businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme during half-term, saying: “This is the England I know”.

The England star shared posts from businesses across the UK who have announced they will provide free meals for those who need them, and urged people to add the hashtag #endchildfoodpoverty to their tweets so he could promote them.

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