Sunday, 29 Nov 2020

More than 500,000 people sign petition to stop MPs getting subsidised meals

More than half a million people are demanding an end to using tax payers money to support MPs’ food costs as the row over free school meals continues.

An online petition calls for ‘an end to the practice of paying expenses to MPs for food and drink’, and for parliamentary establishments to sell meals and alcohol ‘at market rates’.

It was set up after Conservatives rejected a bid from Labour, inspired by footballer Marcus Rashford, to extend free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021.

MPs are entitled to claim up to £25 a night on expenses for food if they stay overnight outside of both their constituency and London, while restaurants and cafes inside parliament charge less for meals than they would elsewhere in the capital.

Petition organiser Portia Lawrie said she wanted to point out the ‘clear hypocrisy’ of MPs ‘denying support to those most in need of it’ while benefiting from tax payer funded food themselves.

She wrote: ‘I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching unfold as hundreds of thousands of people threw their support behind it in less than 24 hours.

‘It’s simply unfair that the government is refusing to use OUR money for one of the most basic responsibilities of a compassionate society – feeding hungry children. And the level of support this petition is getting shows clearly the level of hurt caused by those who voted against it.’

MPs can’t use their expenses to buy alcohol either in their  office or while they’re travelling.

However they can enjoy subsidised food and drink in parliament’s various bars and restaurants.

A 2019 menu for the Parliament Members’ Dining Room includes steak and chips for less than £10, while a medium sized glass of merlot is £4.36.

Although parliamentary restaurants and bars are not directly subsidised, they run at a loss and so are effectively subsidised with public money.

Some venues struggle to make a profit due to irregular hours and the unpredictability of parliamentary business, according to a 2018 Freedom of Information request. 

That year it was revealed that taxpayers shelled out £4.4million to subsidise food and drink at Parliament.

More than 664,000 people have put their name to the petition in just two days.

It comes amid the continuing fallout over the defeated free school meals vote, with a number of Conservatives coming under fire for their attempts to defend their position.

Tory MP Ben Bradlely is under pressure to apologise for replying to a tweet in which another user described the programme as ‘£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel’.

In a post on Twitter which has since been removed, he wrote: ‘That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did…’

Tory MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby also sparked anger after comments on local businesses giving free food away.

A screenshot of a since-removed post in her name on Facebook said: ‘I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.’

The government said it preferred to tackle child poverty through Universal Credit than a free school meal voucher scheme.

But local councils and businesses furious with their response have stepped in to pug the gaps.

Manchester United and England striker Rashford has been hailed a ‘hero of our times’ after his campaign to provide free meals to children during the school holidays prompted an outpouring of support on social media.

The 22-year-old posted a string of tweets to his 3.6 million followers on Thursday night and throughout Friday, highlighting cafes, bars, restaurants and other organisations who had volunteered to help children going hungry.

A House of Commons Spokesperson said: ‘The House of Commons’ catering service does not provide a subsidised service in the commercial sense of the word, and we continuously seek to reduce costs.  These services are accessible to all passholders, including staff and journalists.’

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