A TORY MP has insisted a tweet which has prompted accusations that he was stigmatising working class families was “totally taken out of context”.
Ben Bradley, elected to become the first Tory MP for Mansfield in 2017, replied to a tweet in which another user described the free school meals 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…”
Asked to explain what he meant, Bradley said giving children who live in “chaotic” situations an “unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful” – but Labour has pointed out the vouchers in summer could only be used to buy food.
Mr Bradley told BBC Breakfast: “It [the tweet] has been totally taken out of context. I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful.
“The point I’m making is we need to wrap our arms as a society around those families. That’s why Government has given that money to local government because they are best placed working with social services, working with schools, to be able to find those families, to target them, to help them in a more holistic way than meal vouchers.”
He added “not everything has to come from central Government” and said local communities also have a role to play, praising Marcus Rashford’s campaign as “brilliant in rallying round communities”.
MPs rejected the Manchester United player’s call to offer free school meals for children during half-term.
A vote on the measures was backed by Labour and made its way to Parliament this week but was defeated by 322 votes to 261.
The footballer’s petition to end child food poverty had gained more than 640,000 signatures by Saturday morning and his campaign has seen businesses and organisations around the country offering free food to those in need.
Following Mr Bradley’s tweet, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “A Conservative MP has said that free school meals are effectively a direct payment to brothels and drug dealers.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the vouchers in summer could only be used to purchase food, this stigmatisation of working class families is disgraceful and disgusting.”
Shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq has written to the co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, Amanda Milling, demanding an apology is sought from Mr Bradley.
She said: “Notwithstanding the fact that free school meal vouchers could only be redeemed in participating supermarkets for the purchase of food and groceries, I am sure that you will want to make clear that this kind of crass stigmatisation of children from poorer families is deeply damaging, and distance yourself from Mr Bradley’s misleading and troubling comments.
“In the meantime, I respectfully ask you to request an apology from Mr Bradley to the millions of children from lower income households who benefit from free school meal support.”