The region’s MPs have been explaining their reasons for voting against a Labour motion to offer free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021.
Both North Devon MP Selaine Saxby and Torridge MP Geoffrey Cox voted with the government as the motion was rejected by 322 votes to 261.
The motion was ‘non-binding’ and would not have resulted in a change in the law.
Free school meals has been in the headlines thanks to footballer Marcus Rashford MBE and his campaign against child hunger, which helped to ensure food voucher equivalents for school meals would be provided to low income families while schools were closed lockdown.
Hundreds have taken to social media locally to criticise their MPs for their vote, but both Ms Saxby and Mr Cox have defended their positions.
Mr Cox said the debate was not about whether to help children, but how to do it.
He said: “The proposal put forward by Labour in a non-binding motion was to continue free school meals through the remaining holidays until March but that is not the most effective way of helping.
“The Government is already providing free school meals to 1.4 million children during term time and has chosen to help children and families in need in the holidays by increasing Universal Credit by at least £20 a week during the pandemic, on top of increases in April.”
Ms Saxby said: “Contrary to what some people have been saying, I have not voted to take free school meals from children. Supporting vulnerable children, families and individuals has been at the heart of all I have done at this challenging time.
“The opposition know this, but they prefer to frame these votes as more than they are in a cynical attempt to play politics with a serious issue.
“As a matter of principle, the best way to help support children is through the welfare system. I agree that those who need it should be provided with free meals when they are in school, but we must be careful not to overburden schools with tasks which rightly fall under the remit of the broader welfare system.
“Accordingly, the Government have introduced a broad range of measures to support children during the pandemic.”
But North Devon Lib Dem Spokesman, Alex White said: “You can see from the hundreds of comments floating around on social media how appalled local people are at the outcome of this vote.
“Lib Dems voted to give eligible children free school meals because it is the right thing to do. It is disgusting that this Tory MP will be awarded a £3,000 pay rise for voting against the interests of her constituents time and again.
In a separate statement, North Devon Liberal Democrats said they ‘recognise that not everyone will be in favour of these free school meals’ but say they ‘urge people to think about the significant strain families are unexpectedly finding themselves under following a huge rise in unemployment and universal credit claimants in the area’.
They say this is not the fault of the children and they must be protected.