Children’s minister accused of stoking ‘ideological war’ over free school meal voucher comments

Children's minister and Tory MP Vicky Ford; Richard Townshend

Children's minister and Tory MP Vicky Ford; Richard Townshend - Credit: Archant

A Tory MP has been accused of stoking 'ideological warfare' after suggesting free school meal vouchers were being spent on alcohol and cigarettes.

Conservative MP Vicky Ford, who is also the children's minister, tweeted that parents were misusing the vouchers introduced to help feed school children over the summer break.

'Saddened to hear of incidents of some parents using free school meals vouchers for alcohol & non food products despite clear restrictions & also threatening supermarket staff,' she wrote.

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'Am speaking to all supermarkets on what more can be done to protect staff and make sure kids get food.'

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But the Chelmsford MP has been accused of stoking 'ideological warfare' without providing any evidence for her remarks.

Her comments came after newspaper reports of 'anonymous' supermarket staff saying parents were trying to exchange the coupons for alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets.

Workers alleged it has become a 'big issue' in several supermarkets and have received abuse for refusing parents.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, however, told the Commons that 'measures are in place' to ensure they cannot be used for these purposes.

Many on Twitter are questioning Ford's sources, accusing the MP of pandering to right-wing newspapers.

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'Just how many anecdotal accounts are you aware of to justify this attack on parents and a voucher scheme providing millions of meals for children in poverty?' asked Jack Stanton.

'I thought the Tories' whole thing was that people know themselves how best to spend income and the state shouldn't interfere?' asked @YesWithDex.

James Foster responded: 'Demonising the poor yet again. It's most likely a very small minority you talk of, Vicky Ford. Why don't you tweet about those who have their money stashed in tax havens, who avoid paying their tax and who exploit workers to grow their wealth whilst many suffer?'

'Why don't you get off your high horse, stop shaming folks for whom you have no understanding and get on with your actual job?' tweeted @miffythegamer.

One supermarket worker also joined the debate, informing the MP: 'I work on the till yes may be the odd one bought junk food but 99% bought food and cleaning items [and] some had to choose and put back items as they had no other money.'

Others felt Ford has been pandering to the right-wing media. One user said: 'That's right, stoke the division between the haves and have nots; and hand the Express a headline, you horrible woman.'

Mark Cockerton tweeted: 'Saddened to hear the Children's Minister trying to change the narrative on free school vouchers after hearing a few anecdotes & because her boss is smarting at being forced into paying for them by @MarcusRashford. I'm guessing that Johnson wants go faster stripes on his plane?'

Ford received more than 3,000 responses since tweeting on Tuesday evening, but failed to address any of the criticisms.

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