A Tory minister has suggested his government is not responsible for the rising number of children going hungry in the UK and deflected the blame on Labour instead.
Paul Scully, a junior cabinet minister, provoked outrage when he said the government would not extend free school meals during the holidays because “children have been going hungry for years.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressures to back an initiative to provide children with school meals during the October half-term and Christmas holidays.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who successfully lobbied the prime minister to extend the programme over the summer, warned MPs not to “turn a blind eye” to the plight of vulnerable children after Boris Johnson refused to do the same over the winter break.
Appearing on BBC 2’s Politics Live, Scully tried to deflect issue onto Labour.
“We’ve had a situation where children have been going hungry under a Labour government for years,” he said.
“We have put a Universal Credit system in place which allows flexibility for people to go back to work, topping up their incomes, so they don’t have the cliff edge of the old benefit system which we saw under the old Labour government.”
Presenter Jo Coburn butted in: “Paul, did you say that children have gone hungry for years? Is that acceptable?”
Scully replied: “No it’s not, which is why I’m saying we have been looking at how we can help parents in the long term.”
The comment provoked fierce backlash online.
Jonquil tweeted: “When I heard that I actually shouted out in anguish. @scullyp you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself but the truth is you won’t be.”
Journalist Matt Moore wrote: “I’m entirely lost for words on what to say to that response. Not even an ounce of humanity.”
'Kids have been hungry for ages, let's not bother.'
I'm entirely lost for words on what to say to that response. Not even an ounce of humanity. https://t.co/AV75jUQWGg
— Matt Moore (@MattMooreJourno) October 21, 2020
One user said: “A Labour govt that haven’t been in power for over a decade. Take ownership of the issue.”
“Is he aware the Conservatives have been in govt for 10 years?” asked another.
Mattie chimed in: “WHAT? We haven’t had a Labour government since 2010. We’ve had a decade of a Conservative one, that has seen food poverty and poverty overall increase; foodbank usage increase; starving children increase. Make it make sense!”
@Lynn_GT pointed out: “People have been dying of cancer for years, so is he saying we shouldn’t fund care for them either?”
Just when you think Conservatives couldn’t sink any lower they find a further subterranean level.
— Bron Parker (@hallamette) October 21, 2020
Caroline Keep quipped: “Next time you have a problem at work. Blame the people who worked there a decade ago.”
"We've put a universal credit system in place which allows flexibility for people to go back to work". Why do I feel he's missing, or wilfully ignoring, a vital point? Someone want to tell him what's been going on for the last few months&why it'll be "one of the toughest winters"
— A.D. (@astrid_2) October 21, 2020
Fraser Steen hit out at Labour MP Tulip Sadiq: “I don’t think the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn (one of the least deprived and wealthiest constituencies in the country) is in the best position to lecture anyone else about child poverty. Nor is she spending her time on things that would be helpful to her constituents.”
Shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Scally to apologise.
She said: “Rising child poverty and more families going hungry is the shameful legacy of the Conservatives’ decade in power.
“Paul Scully should apologise for his disgraceful comment and Conservative MPs should do something about this injustice by supporting Labour’s plan to ensure no child goes hungry over Christmas.”