KEIGHLEY and Ilkley MP Robbie Moore has accused the Labour Party of weaponising the free school meals debate and causing "distress and fear amongst many hard working families". 

In a post on Facebook, Conservative MP Mr Moore said: "This week there was an Opposition Day debate on extending the free school meals during holiday times.

"An Opposition Day Debate is a chance for the Labour Party to hold a debate on a subject of their choosing in order to make political headlines.

"Sadly, and true to form, the Labour Party has used this as an opportunity to spread misinformation and weaponise such an emotive subject to cause distress and fear amongst many hard working families."

He claimed misinformation had been spread on social media and added: "The Labour Party have accused me of voting to ‘starve children’ which just simply isn’t the case.

"This Government has actually extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes like breakfast clubs.

"Since the start of this pandemic, the Government have added over £9 billion to the welfare system. The benefits of this have included: Increase Universal Credit by £1,000/year; create a £63m fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance; award £16m to food charities; committed £53 billion on the Furlough Scheme which has protected 12 million jobs.

"This is all money that is going to families who are in need.

"The Conservatives extended free school meals over the summer holidays due to the fact children had not been in school since March and families had been meeting the extra costs of this.

"Now, the situation is different. We see children back in the classroom and are benefiting from free school meals during term time as normal."

He added: "I am pleased to announce the government THIS WEEK gave a further £18 million to Bradford Council that can be used to support the most vulnerable during these challenging times - such as free school meals during holiday periods - and I am very pleased to see they are using this government money to help with this."

Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said that it is not what the money is for.

A letter from the Secretary of State said: “I would expect you to continue to prioritise adult social care, children’s services, public health services, household waste services, shielding the clinically extremely vulnerable, homelessness and rough sleeping, domestic abuse, managing excess deaths (including costs relating to additional mortuary capacity) and support for re-opening the country.”

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: "Children’s services in this quote from the Secretary of State doesn’t mean meals during holidays, it means paying for children’s social workers, children who have been taken into care and foster care placements etc. 

"Public health includes things like Environmental Health and public health professionals who are focused on controlling the spread of the virus."

She said the Council is funding free meals for disadvantaged children and families because "like most people we recognise that, in these exceptional times, it’s the right thing to do".

"Whilst one-off Government funding is welcome, the Council Director of Finance presented accounts in September which showed that the council funding gap for next year is over £47 million," she said.

"This continues to be a concern, not just for Bradford Council but for all councils round the country.  The cost pressures on councils during the pandemic have been huge and to be able to plan for the next year we need some financial commitments and certainty from central government."

On Friday, the Council announced it is donating £20,000 to local food banks to help feed thousands of disadvantaged children during the half-term break.

The cash is being spread across the district, and the Council is also working with community groups to serve more than 10,000 meals to vulnerable families during the school holiday.

Councillor Imran Khan, deputy leader and executive member for education, employment and skills, said it was "absolutely the right thing to do".

The donation follows the successful summer scheme which funded 45 charities and community organisations to run summer holiday clubs providing food and activities for children.