'I spend all my time thinking about this': Children's minister condemned for voting against free school meals

Vicky Ford has been called out by Angela Rayner after previously voting against free school meals. (BBC/PA)
Vicky Ford has been called out by Angela Rayner after previously voting against free school meals. (BBC/PA)

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has attacked the government’s children’s minister for saying she “spends all my time” thinking about helping vulnerable children – having previously voted against free school meals.

When the latest free school meals row was raised on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday, the minister, Vicky Ford, said: “I am minister for children and families so literally I spend all my time thinking how we can support vulnerable children constantly.”

On Twitter, Rayner pointed to a House of Commons vote in October last year in which Ford voted against Labour’s motion for free school meals in that month’s half-term break.

Ford was one of 320 Conservative MPs who voted against it, with five voting for. The government had said families in need of help are supported through “our comprehensive welfare system”.

The latest free school meals row emerged this week after images showing poor quality food parcels, issued as part of the latest coronavirus lockdown in which schools have closed, were widely shared on social media and highlighted by footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford.

The packages were condemned by Boris Johnson as “disgraceful”, with the prime minister saying he was “committed to correcting the issue” having spoken to Manchester United’s Rashford.

Labour is now pressuring the government to give parents cash to buy food, rather than supplying it through vouchers or parcels.

The party is going to submit a motion on the scheme in the Commons on Monday, with Rayner inviting Ford on Twitter to vote in favour of it. Ford has not replied.

Watch: Jack Monroe calls out 'injustice' of free school meals failure

On Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock was also called out for voting against the free school meals motion in October.

Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Hancock said of the current free school meal parcel scheme: “I’m really glad we're able to do that when schools are out."

But host Piers Morgan reminded him of his vote last year, saying: "If you're that glad, can I ask you a question, why did you vote against it?" Hancock did not answer the question.

Last October’s free school meals vote saw the House of Commons as bitterly divided as it had been at any time since the Brexit dramas of 2019.

At one point on the day of the vote, tensions boiled over as Rayner called Conservative MP Chris Clarkson “scum”, for which she was angrily reprimanded by deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown