'An old Etonian doesn't know what hunger feels like': Labour peer lays into PM over free school meals

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2 min read

Watch: Labour peer says old Etonians don't know what hunger feels like amid free school meals row

  • Peer recalls “panic” he used to feel before school holidays at thought of not getting free meals

  • Lord Griffiths says “an old Etonian” like Boris Johnson “can’t be expected to have had the same experience”

  • It comes amid ongoing row after Johnson’s MPs rejected Marcus Rashford-inspired plan for free school meals during half-term

  • Visit the Yahoo homepage for more stories

A Labour peer has said old Etonians like Boris Johnson don’t know what hunger feels like as he laid into the government over free school meals.

In a House of Lords debate about free school meals on Tuesday – in the wake of Conservative MPs turning down a plan inspired by footballer Marcus Rashford for free meals to continue during half-term – Lord Griffiths of Burry Port described the “mounting panic” he used to feel before half-term.

He said: “I was in receipt of free meals throughout my entire school career. My mother, a single woman, her only income was the contributions of the National Assistance, we lived in one room.

“I remember very clearly, I can still taste and smell it, the mounting panic ahead of school holidays because the income we had could not stretch to feeding two boys and a mother in that day.

Lord Griffiths and old Etonian Boris Johnson. (Parliamentlive.tv/Getty Images)
Lord Griffiths and Boris Johnson. (Parliamentlive.tv/Getty Images)

“Marcus Rashford and I have this, and probably only this, in common. We remember not in our heads but in our whole bodies. An old Etonian, of course, can’t be expected to have had the same experience.”

Johnson, who attended the exclusive Eton College in the 1970s and 80s, is still under pressure following his rejection of Rashford’s popular campaign.

Last week, Labour put forward a plan for free meals over school holidays to be extended to Easter next year, but most of Johnson’s Conservative MPs voted against it.

Rashford, who voiced his “despair” at the vote, has argued many children would be going hungry during school holidays as a result of parents losing their jobs and income due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonetheless, hundreds of hospitality businesses and councils – including Tory-run administrations – have since come forward to offer children food during the half-term break this week.

Attempting to play down the row on Monday, Johnson insisted the government would not allow children to go hungry.

Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (L) reacts during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on October 24, 2020. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by OLI SCARFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford (Oli Scarff/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

The prime minister promised to do “everything in our power” to tackle holiday hunger.

Mr Johnson highlighted the money it had given to councils and said Universal Credit was “one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time”.

“I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it,” he added. “The debate is how do you deal with it.”