MPs in the House of Commons voted last night on a Labour motion proposing to extend free school meals across school holidays until next Easter.
The proposal was defeated by 261 votes to 322.
The Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, voted in favour – while the Conservative MPs for Portsmouth North, Fareham, Havant, and Gosport all voted against the motion.
MP admits people will see vote as ‘frustrating’
Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, acknowledged that many people will find the result ‘frustrating’, but she stressed the government continues to look at proposals put forward by a task force formed by Manchester United star Marcus Rashford.
She said: ‘I have drafted a note to Marcus Rashford, because I’ve been in touch with him previously and plan to keep in touch with the task force.
‘With national task forces, you have people looking at simple policy asks, and sometimes they aren’t the best way to address the problem.
‘The government hasn’t rejected these things outright, and what I will do is stay talking to ministers.
‘I will be presenting evidence from Portsmouth regarding where I think a solution lies.
‘Politics is frustrating – you always want things to happen faster, and there is always unmet need.’
19,000 children in Portsmouth on free school meals
More than 19,000 children across the Portsmouth area were eligible for free schools meals in the last school year, figures from the Department for Education show.
Separate figures show the number of children in low-income families in the city rose from 12,445 in 2014-15, to 13,211 last year.
An alternative to extending free school meals would be working with charity and community groups to help feed children in need, Ms Mordaunt said.
She added: ‘We have some amazing lunch clubs in the city.
‘It's not just the food that is a good thing – it’s the social networks they provide.
‘They don’t just serve young families, but have older people going to them as well.
‘I think we ought to be supporting those organisation as well as what the state does.
‘If the government doesn’t plan to do anything, we would have a plan B where we can see the unmet need within the city.’
Ministers were right to extend free school meals over the summer and allocate an additional £9 billion to the welfare system – but the school meals scheme is ‘not a general welfare measure’, according to Fareham MP Suella Braverman, who voted against yesterday’s motion.
She said: ‘I think it was right that Ministers recognised the extremely difficult situation families have been put in by coronavirus and took the action they did.
‘However, it is important to remember that free school meals are not a general welfare measure.
‘The provision of free school meals is, ordinarily, term-time only.’
The Labour party was trying to make the issue about ‘political point-scoring’, Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said.
She said: ‘This government are supporting pupils in need.
‘This includes free school meals for 1.4m children from low-income families, an extra £9bn for the welfare system, and £63m to help councils support families in need.’
Labour MP Stephen Morgan replied: ‘For me, politics is about making sure people have a roof over their head, families have food on the table and that they know support for their children is there when they need it.
‘Those who voted with the government denied families and their children of that. Here in Portsmouth, that’s over 7,000 children, and rising.
‘I will continue to hold the government to account on this, but I really urge other MPs in our region who voted otherwise to seriously reflect again on what the most vulnerable in our communities need.’
Havant MP Mr Mak was approached for comment.
How MPs voted on the motion
Portsmouth North: Penny Mordaunt, Conservative - against
Portsmouth South: Stephen Morgan, Labour - for
Fareham: Suella Braverman, Conservative - against
Gosport: Caroline Dinenage, Conservative - against
Havant: Alan Mak, Conservative - against
Gosport has seen the number of children in low-income families rise from 4,402 in 2014-15, to 4,445 last year.
In Havant the increase was from 6,460 to 6,991.
Fareham saw a small reduction from 3,879 to 3,854.