The National:

WE are facing the most difficult winter of our lifetimes. With rumours circling of a digital Christmas on the cards, rising unemployment, and endless days cooped up indoors, the festive season is set to be a lacklustre one, to say the least.

For thousands of families on low incomes, though, the next few months will be impossibly bleak. Over 1.3 million school children are also now facing months without regular hot meals, following yesterday’s block to the extension of free school meals over the school holidays.

The motion, proposed by Labour, to further extend the scheme until Easter 2021, was rejected by Tory MPs with a 61 majority.

322 MPs consciously voted to stop feeding children.

While there aren’t the words to describe the lack of compassion in their vote, the reason Boris Johnson gave was Dickensian: "It's not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays.”

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The implications in this excuse is not subtle in its intent to shame parents for, as they would make the case, trying to get out of not looking after their children. In true School of Hard Knocks-style, the Tories have tried to pass the blame onto families who have already been placed under immeasurable financial strain from the pandemic, while simultaneously failing to concede their failures and role in forcing thousands to become reliant on free school meals and food banks.

In new analysis undertaken by Heriot-Watt University with support from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, they have estimated that unless changes are made this autumn, there is likely to be a 61% rise in the need for foodbanks in the Trussell Trust’s network over the winter months.

The statistics are there, and they’re obscene. But, by placing the blame on parents and playing up to pre-existing socioeconomic stigma, the government can conveniently avoid the scrutiny it deserves.

A quick scroll on Twitter today will show also that many are all too eager to tout their obscure and hypothetical “affordable” shopping lists and apple foraging stories as evidence that working parents are just bone idle.

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This not only shows contempt for the poor, but also a malicious ignorance of just what food poverty is. How, when families are living below the breadline, you budget on pennies, not pounds.

How heating needs to be rationed, and sometimes it’s a choice between gas and electricity.

How, for all the cries of “but slow cookers make meals so easy to prepare”, you still need to find the spare £20 for the slow cooker in the first place.

In a country where MPs are set to pocket a £3000 pay rise during a global pandemic, no one, not least children, should be made to go to bed hungry.

If the economy we have is one that can only work if we “balance the books” by sacrificing the most basic needs of our kids on the altar of austerity, then we have failed as a civilised society. We have failed in our human obligation to protect and those most vulnerable, and without a voice.