COLCHESTER’S MP has defended his decision to vote against a proposal to extend free school meals across the school holidays to help families in need.

Will Quince was one of 321 MPs to vote against the Labour motion to extend the scheme until Easter 2021.

It was defeated by a majority of 61.

Manchester United and England football star Marcus Rashford had spearheaded a campaign for the Government to continue feeding the youngsters in most need when they were not at school.

His initiative saw them decide to make a u-turn and extend the scheme into the summer holidays but a bid to continue it still further was shot down.

Mr Quince said: "I want to start by praising Marcus Rashford MBE, and his campaign to highlight the important issue of food insecurity.

"He deserves credit from all of us.

"As a society, I know that we want to do all we can to address child food insecurity - one child going hungry is one child too many, and I do not believe that there is anyone in Parliament that doesn’t want to see food insecurity as a thing of the past.

"As I am sure you are already aware, the Government acted to ensure that eligible children could still receive free school meals during the coronavirus lockdown when they were not in school.

"This was in the form of a supermarket voucher system which saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed and over 20,000 schools placing orders.

"In addition to this, we temporarily extended the eligibility criteria for free school meals to include some groups who have no recourse to public funds.

"I welcomed this as the correct course of action to take because many schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and low-income families would have had to pick up the costs of meals which would otherwise have been provided to children at school during term times.

"Now that nearly all children are back at school, however, the situation is different and all eligible children from low-income families are once again receiving free meals in school.

"Unfortunately, the issue of food insecurity is wider than this, and a temporary extension to the free school meals voucher scheme will not provide the most effective support needed to alleviate it.

"I know that Ministers, me included, are carefully considering all three of Mr Rashford’s proposals which form part of the National Food Strategy Part One.

"Perhaps most importantly, the wider extensive support package introduced by the Government for families most in need has not been considered nor mentioned.

"The UK has a welfare state which is one of the most comprehensive in the world, and this Government has been fully committed to supporting low-income families during this pandemic.

"In addition to the £380 million voucher scheme we have run over the summer, we are providing free school meals in school for 1.4 million children from low-income families and have provided £63 million to local councils to help them support families who require it."

Mr Quince said he had helped to support people from low income families as part of his role as the Minister for Delivery at the Department of Work and Pensions He said: “More than £9 billion extra has been injected into our welfare safety net including a £20 per week increase to Universal Credit, local housing allowance rate rise and local welfare funding.

“This is on top of the around £5 billion increase to benefit rates as part of the 2020/21 uprating of benefits, including around £400m more on children’s benefits.

“I know some will disagree with the vote but it must been seen in the context of the overall package of support.”

Mr Quince was among a dozen Essex MPs who voted with the Government including Braintree’s James Cleverley and Giles Watling, who represents Clacton.

Sir Bernard Jenkin - Harwich and North Essex - and Home Secretary Priti Patel, who represents Witham, did not vote.

Tory Caroline Ansell was among five MPs who rebelled against the Government and has since stepped down from her position as Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the wake of the vote.

Rashford, who has previously spoken of his own experience of going hungry as a youngster, said child food poverty “has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced”.

The forward added that the issue should not be politicised because it was about humanity.

He said: “We must start working together and unite to protect our most vulnerable children.

“No more sticking plasters. Let’s face this head on.”

He added: “These children matter. 

“These children are the future of this country. 

“They are not just another statistic. 

“No more sticking plasters. Let’s face this head on.”

He added: “These children matter.

“These children are the future of this country.

“They are not just another statistic.

“And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”