Having herself benefited from free school meals, Taiwo Owatemi MP passionately urged her colleagues in the House of Commons to vote to extend the scheme.
Taiwo Owatemi MP delivered a passionate speech in the House of Commons last night during an Opposition Day debate on free school meals.
A motion, put forward by the Labour Party, sought an extension to free school meals for all eligible children throughout school holidays from now to 2021, including the upcoming October half term.
The Conservative government voted down the motion by 322 votes.
Before the vote, Owatemi spoke to her personal story, having herself benefited from free school meals when she was growing up in Coventry.
The Coventry North West MP began by expressing her “complete sadness that we are here talking about free school meals as if it is a luxury.”
She went on to describe how important free school meals were to her and her family: “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 questioned, “what kind of nation we are 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 would have dinner that night?”
The MP called out her Conservative colleagues for being “so callous to treat the ability of families from deprived areas to feed their children as such a luxury – food is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.”
Watch the MP’s impassioned speech below:
I pleaded with the Conservatives to find it in their heart to ensure children don’t go hungry.— Taiwo Owatemi MP (@TaiwoOwatemi) October 21, 2020
Tonight they voted against our proposals for Free School Meals this Christmas. pic.twitter.com/vdDOVz4OeU
Tulip Siddiq MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, shortly after praised Owatemi from the dispatch box for her “very passionate and personal” speech.
Later in the evening, fellow Coventry MP, Zarah Sultana, challenged Minister Therese Coffey MP by asking Conservative MPs “how do you not feel any sense of shame” in voting against the extension of free school meals.
After the motion was voted down, Sultana took to Twitter to express her “utter disgust”, adding that 3,829 children in her constituency of Coventry South “will go hungry this Christmas”.
Sultana told HelloCov she will “continue to stand up for working people in Coventry South and challenge this rotten Conservative government.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the vote against extending the scheme by saying deprived families were already supported by the benefits system.
He said the Government would “continue to use the benefit system and all the systems of income support to support young people and children throughout the holidays.”