Following the government’s decision not to motion a plea to extend free school meals throughout the Christmas and Easter holidays, MP Taiwo Owatemi’s powerful speech about what this means is going viral.
Yesterday (21 October), a plea for free school meals to be extended over the half-term holidays was rejected in the House of Commons. The motion would have extended free school meal provision for disadvantaged children over Christmas and Easter, but MPs voted 322 to 261 against it.
Earlier in the day at PMQs, Boris Johnson argued that low-income families were supported by the benefits system, saying: “We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”
Marcus Rashford, who has been a key figure in the campaign to make sure 2.2 million children who rely on free school meals don’t go to bed hungry, has reacted by saying he is in “despair”. And Conservative MP Caroline Ansell has quit her position after backing the motion. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader who grew up on free school meals, responded with a message who voted it down: “I don’t know how you’ll sleep tonight.”
People across Twitter are of course debating the decision, but there is one speech made in the debate that is going viral with its very powerful message.
Labour MP for Coventry North West, Taiwo Owatemi, said she was “completely saddened to be here talking about free school meals as if it is a luxury”.
She continued: “It is not a luxury, I was on free school meals. It’s not an option, let’s be honest. I was on free school meals and I know how important it was for me and my family. I know there were many, many mornings where I had to rush into school and a free school meal provided me with breakfast, lunch and a snack. It gave me the opportunity to really focus, study and learn and be here today.”
Owatemi asked: “What kind of nation do you think we’re going to be, where a single mother from Spon End, in my constituency, who struggles to make ends meet due to the minimum wage, and then has to decide between paying her electricity bill, paying her rent, and whether or not her family will be eating dinner that night?”
Challenging the people who were against the motion, Owatemi became evidently emotional about something she has her own experience of living through.
Owatemi’s main message was: “Food is not a luxury…
“We shouldn’t be here deciding on whether or not there should be a vote. The idea of free school meals should never have been something that we put to a vote. It should be something that we actually work together, across the opposite bench and actually say, ‘let’s provide the opportunity for our constituents, let’s give them the ability to achieve their full potential, to be able to not worry about food, not to worry about the issues that are going on.’
“They’re already dealing with Covid-19, they don’t need to deal with whether or not they’re going to have food.”
And that’s the main point: whatever your politics are, this is about families knowing they will always have food on the table. As Rashford succinctly put it in his statement to the government: “This is not about politics this is about humanity.”