A Tory MP sparked backlash by blaming "chaotic parents" for sending their children to school hungry.
John Penrose, husband of Test and Trace chief Dido Harding, sought to defend himself for voting against extending free school meals into the half-term holidays by describing the measure as a "sticking plaster" over poverty.
In a lengthy letter to a constituent, he wrote:
My personal view is that we need to focus much more on tackling the root causes of poverty, rather than the symptoms. If we focus too much on income inequality, it is at best a poor proxy for disadvantage and lack of opportunity, and is particularly dangerous because it leads swiftly to the idea (beloved of the left) that the answer is simply to hand out more benefits and tax credits to level out incomes. But that doesn't necessarily improve life chances - in fact it can increase dependency - and is more of a 'sticking plaster' solution which treats the symptoms of the problem rather than its causes.
The Weston-super-Mare MP went on to write:
Practical measures which made a genuine difference to the causes of poverty include things like the Pupil Premium, which gives schools extra funding for disadvantaged pupils; breakfast clubs, which help children with chaotic parents who send them to school without breakfast so they can't concentrate properly; and steadily-improving teaching [...].
The letter was called "despicable".
Penrose was criticised for being "remote and arrogant".
Some of his constituents even protested his vote against extending free school meals – although this appears to have been before he sent the letter.
According to The Mirror, Penrose responded to the backlash by saying:
I’m afraid this says more about the silly anti-Tory prejudices of a couple of local Labour activists than about what’s really in my letter, which is clearly about how breakfast clubs can be a valuable way of dealing with one of the causes of poverty, not about everybody else who uses breakfast clubs too.
Indy100 has contacted the MP for further comment.
Penrose is not the only Tory politician to have stirred controversy while attempting to defend the government's defiance of Labour and Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign.
Nottinghamshire MP Ben Bradley claimed his comment that free school meals vouchers are a "£20 cash direct to a crack den" was "taken out of context" (although he didn't explain how), while councillor Mike Bird suggested struggling parents should shop at M&S.