New Tory education minister attacked free school meals as ‘nationalising children’

Boris Johnson’s new education minister argued against free school meals and said he did not believe families could not afford food, it has emerged.

Brendan Clarke-Smith was appointed a minister at the Department for Education on Friday to fill a vacancy left by a wave of resignations.

In October 2020 the Bassetlaw MP used a speech in parliament to complain that free school meals amounted to “nationalising children”.

He has also said he believed it was “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”.

Opposition MPs said it was a “complete disgrace” to make Mr Clarke-Smith an education minister given his views.

The MP, who was elected to the red wall seat at the 2019 election, joined his colleagues during the pandemic in voting down proposals to extend free school meals provision for the school holidays.

During the election campaign Mr Clarke-Smith also blasted food banks and suggested giving away free food to families was counterproductive.

“If you keep saying to people that you’re going to give stuff away, then you’re going to have an increase I’m afraid,” he said, adding that it was “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”.

During the October 2020 debate on free school meals in the Commons he rejected suggestions that the government should step in to help children who might go hungry.

“We must focus on breaking the cycle where the first reaction is to look to the state,” he said.

“It’s a vicious cycle and we need to support families with early intervention and help with things like budgeting and employment. I do not believe in nationalising children.”

The former teacher, whose role at the Department for Education is his first ministerial job, was appointed his colleague Andrea Jenkyns.

Ms Jenkyns caused a stir on her first day in post after raising her middle finger to a crowd of protesters outside Downing Street.

A day later she issued an error-strewn statement in which she branded them a “baying mob” and said “insulting MPs” was “sadly all too common”.

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson said: “Brendan Clarke Smith is a perfect example of how uncaring this government is by refusing to support vulnerable children.

“The failure of this government to offer help to people in this cost of living crisis risks leaving more and more children going hungry.

“Appointing him as an Education Minister is a complete disgrace.”

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