Earlier this week, all five Shropshire MPs voted against giving children from poorer families school meals during school holidays. The MPs, who seem not to know what it is like to be on the poverty line, think families can thrive on Universal Credit. It was their “let them eat cake moment”. The MPs include Philip Dunne who has recently taken on a part-time job alongside his supposedly fulltime job as Ludlow’s MP.

Fortunately, cafes, restaurants and businesses around the county have stepped in and are offering food to families with children who qualify for free school meals. Our communities are stepping up just as our MPs step down from their responsibilities.

Families with children who qualify for free school meals are being offered help across our county (and across the country). Where our MPs fail, our communities are the champions. As I write this, four venues are offering help in Ludlow – The Buttery, Carters Butchers, Parkway Tasca Bar and the Fruit Basket. An up to date list can be found at Shropshire Larder. If you need proof of free school meal entitlement, email fsm@shropshire.gov.uk.

Earlier this year, the national mood was that we are all in it together in battling the horrors of coronavirus. There was broad consensus that sacrifices had to be made and some liberties forfeited to bring the epidemic under control. That consensus, fragile as it was, is now broken.

On Wednesday, the majority of Tory MPs voted against providing food for children. It would have cost the government a measly £20 million for this half term break. Maybe £100 million if the scheme was continued until Easter 2021 as proposed in the Commons. But that was too much for our out of touch MPs to stomach.

Ludlow MP Philip Dunne voted against proving free school meal vouchers, as did Owen Paterson, Daniel Kawczynski, Lucy Allan and Mark Pritchard. Together, they represent nearly 11,000 children on free school meals in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin.

Source: House of Commons Library

Margaret Thatcher was union bashing when she told the nation in 1979:

“Some of the things I’ve seen on television, read in the newspapers, and heard directly from you in factories and shopping centres make me wonder what has happened to our sense of common nationhood and even of common humanity.”

Some of things I have heard in recent weeks make me wonder if it is our politicians that have lost their sense of common humanity and common nationhood.

Philip Dunne does not mention the vote on free school meals on his website. Neither does he mention that he is now a part-time MP. He is to spend eight hours a week in his new job is as a part-time director of Reaction Engines at a reported salary of £39,000. Does Philip Dunne have that much time to spare? He recently told local environmentalists: “I do have an obligation to balance the time I can offer, given the numerous groups and individuals who request meetings.” He could free up 400 hours a year by not moonlighting to top up his meagre salary as an MP. Especially as he is in line for a £3,000 wage rise, taking his salary to around £82,500.

I don’t begrudge MPs being well paid but I do begrudge them squeezing low income households at a time of national crisis. I do begrudge them being distracted from their job of supporting the communities they represent. I do begrudge them tucking into taxpayer subsidised meals in the House of Commons.

Many people in Ludlow  would welcome eight hours a week even at a minimum wage to bring in desperately needed income. Those families will often be ones that our Shropshire MPs said should not receive free school meals during vacations.

Our MPs are out of touch. The poverty that pervades their constituencies is nowhere in their thinking. They should remember that in October 2002, Theresa May condemned her own Conservative Party:

“There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the Nasty Party.”

Truly, the Conservatives were the Nasty Party this week. Not only did they vote against free school meals during holidays, Shropshire Council revived memories of the Stasi by asking residents to spy on businesses.

There is now a different mood among politicians from the consensus we witnessed at the beginning of the epidemic. A different mood from when we stood on doorsteps clapping. From when we worked together to tackle the biggest health crisis of our lives.

Many of our local and national politicians have now stepped down from the consensus.

Our community is to be applauded for stepping up in response to a world that looks more Dickensian by the day.

Thank you everyone who is helping out. We applaude you.

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