Boris Johnson has urged Sir Keir Starmer to help reopen more schools across England, amid calls for the Government to take further action to tackle child poverty.
The Prime Minister criticised councils, highlighting Labour-run authorities, for not opening their doors to reception, year one and year six pupils and suggested Sir Keir should press them to do so.
Labour leader Sir Keir offered to swap places with the Prime Minister when he started asking questions back rather than answering.
The Prime Minister also confirmed refunds will be given to NHS and care workers who have paid fees to use the health service since May 21, when the Government announced it would drop the charge for them.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said he welcomed the Government’s U-turn on free school meals but said it was “just one step” to reducing child poverty.
He told MPs: “The Prime Minister says poverty has not increased. I just read a direct quote from a Government report from a Government commission produced last week which says it has gone up by 600,000.”
Sir Keir added: “The Social Mobility Commission has a clear answer to my question – this anticipated rise in child poverty is not driven by forces beyond our control.
“I’m sure the Prime Minister would agree that an even higher child poverty rate would be an intolerable outcome from this pandemic, so what is he going to do to prevent it?”
Mr Johnson claimed there has been a reduction in poverty, adding that one of the best ways to help the poorest children in the country “would be to encourage all kids who can go back to school to go back to school now because their schools are safe”.
Sir Keir later said the Prime Minister is an “expert” in U-turns, adding: “The Government has had three U-turns in the last month. First we had immigration health charges, then we had MPs voting and then we had free school meals.”
Mr Johnson said in his reply: “How can he talk about tackling the effect of coronavirus on the most disadvantaged?
“It’s the most disadvantaged kids who need to go back to school and it is those groups which, unfortunately, at the moment that are not going back to school.
“Let’s hear from him, one more time, will he say schools are safe to go back to? Come on.”
Sir Keir replied: “This is turning into Opposition questions.
“If the Prime Minister wants to swap places, I’m very happy to do it, to do it now.”
Sir Keir warned council leaders face a choice between “cutting core services or facing bankruptcy”, telling the Prime Minister: “Either outcome will harm communities and mean local services can’t reopen.
“That will drive up poverty, something the Prime Minister says he doesn’t intend to do.
“Local councils have done everything asked of them in this crisis, the Government hasn’t. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility and actually do something?”
Mr Johnson said he had outlined financial support for local government, adding the country can be “very proud” of its investments and the response of local government officials.
He added: “There are some councils, particularly Labour councils alas, that are not opening their schools when they could be opening them.
“And I say to him, I hope for the last time, now is the moment when he can say to those Labour councillors that it is safe for kids to go back to reception, to year one, to year six, to early years. Will he now say it?”
Sir Keir then pressed Mr Johnson on the immigration health surcharge for NHS and care workers, telling MPs “nothing has happened” in the month since the Prime Minister announced it would be dropped.
He highlighted the case of one doctor who has paid £6,000 to cover his wife, four children and himself.
Sir Keir said: “These are people on the front line. The Prime Minister said he would act. When is he going to do so?”
Mr Johnson replied: “It is vital people who are working on the front line and NHS workers in particular get the support they need.
“That’s why I said what I said a few weeks ago and what I can tell him is NHS or care workers who have paid the surcharge since May 21 will be refunded and we’re getting on with instituting the new arrangements as fast as we possibly can.”