Published: 13:03, 25 October 2020
| Updated: 14:58, 25 October 2020
Under-fire Tory MPs who voted against the motion to extend free school meals have hit back at criticism with offers of targeted help in Kent .
The Government has so far rejected a continuation of a campaign - led by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford - to fund £15-a-week food provision during the half-term and Christmas breaks.
Earlier this week 14 Conservative MPs representing Kent constituencies voted against the measure to feed more than 52,000 kids eligible for free school meals in the county.
It resulted in a public backlash with those voting against defending their position and calling for greater support through the existing welfare system, rather than an extension of supermarket vouchers.
But as tempers frayed further over the policy under-fire Tories have since hit back with offers of help.
Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood Kelly Tolhurst today posted: "The Government has given Medway Council £336,715 of funding specifically to support families who are struggling with food and essentials.
"Rather than the roughly £20m free school meals proposal, we rolled out a £63m plan delivered by councils who were tasked with targeting this money to those families that most need it, with whatever services are most helpful to them, including food if that's a problem.
"With the money provided, Medway council is working with Citizens Advice to make sure it gets to the people who need it."
Fellow Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe Damian Collins also faced criticism for voting against the proposed extension and like his Chancellor Rishi Sunak was also banned from a local business as a result .
Big Boys Fine Burger Co in Folkestone posted to social media to say their local representative was no longer welcome.
Owner Guy Meurice, who runs the diner with his brother Gareth in the Old High Street said the position was unjustifiable given the current climate, and they would be stepping up to offer to feed hungry kids in the town.
The 35-year-old said: "We saw the vote and were pretty disgusted by the decision.
"Regardless of your long term politics and what we feel are the right personal decisions there is a global pandemic going on. We must look after people who need looking after."
He added he felt the MP's decision had "deprived a lot of families" and so the politician, who is said by the owner to frequent the restaurant on occasions would be "deprived of a burger" himself.
"He might feel like a big juicy burger and he can't have it," said Guy. "It is not the same but on some level he can know what it is like."
The restaurant is planning to provide 120 meals over five days for half term next week and Guy is partnering up with other local organisations to try and ensure no youngsters go without.
"What really highlights the issue is we have had messages from people who were made redundant," he added.
"These are not people who have mismanaged their money or fall into the typical Conservative view of the poor."
Guy has had both messages of support and criticism for his stance but says he couldn't stand by as someone with food available and let people go hungry, adding "At the end of the day I can go to bed at night knowing I'm on the right side feeding hungry children".
"He might feel like a big juicy burger and he can't have it"
He has told those families in need to get in touch at least a day before, either through the team's social media accounts or his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
MP Damian Collins said earlier this week he recognised the exceptional nature of the situation this year because of the uncertainties caused by the Covid crisis.
"Given the length of the summer holidays I thought providing free school meals at that time was a good idea, he said.
"However, overall support for low income families is, and should continue to be, delivered through Universal Credit and the benefits system."
The burger joint says it has since had a reply from the MP who told families in need to seek help through the Kent County Council led Covid-19 support initiative Kent Together .
Leader of KCC Roger Gough says Kent’s most vulnerable families and children should not suffer hunger throughout this half term week, or at any time in their lives.
He added while the need to ensure children from low-income homes were being fed had never been greater, support was on hand.
"We and our partners have been working to provide emergency assistance to families most at risk,” said the Tory council leader.
“I want to reassure anyone who needs financial assistance that this support is there and has always been there. And now, during this half term break, I want to ensure that those who need help and support are really able to get it.
“Whilst the last few months have presented many challenges, the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the strength of partnerships and community spirit, and this has helped us all in supporting those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
“I strongly encourage anyone who needs help, whether during this half-term or indeed at any time, to contact us for help.”
Canterbury's Labour MP Rosie Duffield was the only parliamentarian from the county to back the measure but not all Tories voted against, with North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale and Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch both abstaining.
Kent is asked its opinion on the free schools meals vote
In North Thanet headteachers said they would step in to provide vouchers to pupils.
It's MP Sir Roger Gale told KMTV: "The free school meal programme was never designed as income support."
"In a hurry in the summer we introduced the scheme through the summer holidays and that was the right thing to do."
He added he would have not voted against extending it to the Easter holidays, but believed it had been designed by the Labour party to be a permanent solution, which he disagreed with.
"I was not prepared to accept that but what I do accept and the reason I abstained is because there is a need for further support, particularly during the pandemic.
"And particularly when people are quite likely to lose jobs."
Click here to see how children in Kent are being helped this half term.
Further help and information is available via the Kent Together website or by calling 03000 41 92 92