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It’s like Oliver Twist! Children’s leader on school meals clash

Please sir, I want some more: A scene from the 1968 film Oliver! PICTURE: REX

THE debate about extending free school meals to vulnerable children over the holidays is like ‘something out of Oliver Twist’, the Children’s Commissioner for England has said.

Anne Longfield was ‘horrified and really disappointed’ by the talks that ended in Labour’s bid to extend the scheme in England, championed by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, being defeated in the Commons by 261 votes to 322. It came as pressure grew on Boris Johnson to perform a U-turn after Tory MPs called for a rethink.

Ms Longfield told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘To have a debate about whether we should make sure hungry and vulnerable children have enough to eat is strikingly similar to something we’d expect to see in Oliver Twist — a novel published in the 19th century. Let’s stop the divisive and distracting conversation, and let’s start focusing.’

Campaigner: Marcus Rashford PICTURE: PA

Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin told the same programme: ‘We have misunderstood the mood of the country here.’

Rashford, whose petition has attracted more than 800,000 signatures, praised councils and firms providing free food. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned it would force another vote on free school meals if No.10 does not change course.

But minister Brandon Lewis said the government had taken ‘the right position’ by increasing Universal Credit and providing £63million for those facing hardship.

Meanwhile an Opinium poll showed Labour on 40 per cent with the Tories on 38 per cent. This would give Labour an 85-seat majority, according to Flavible.