Tory minister who voted against free school meals made £65 expense claim – for book about childhood poverty

Colin Drury
·2 min read
Robin Walker (UK Parliament)
Robin Walker (UK Parliament)

A Conservative minister who voted against free school meals had earlier made a £65 expense claim – for a handbook about childhood poverty.

Robin Walker, minister for Northern Ireland, bought the Child Poverty Action Group reference manual last June and then charged it to the public purse.

But last week he was among hundreds of Tories who voted down a parliamentary motion aimed specifically at alleviating such deprivation by extending free school meals over the half-term and Christmas holidays.

The vote – demanded by the Labour party after a petition by footballer Marcus Rashford – was defeated by 322 to 261 in the Commons.

Watch: Community bands together to feed vulnerable children

The decision was widely criticised, with businesses and charities across the country coming forward to offer free half-term food to struggling families.

But Mr Walker, who was himself educated at the private St Paul’s School in London, said his decision – to deny poor children a hot meal every day – had been “misrepresented”.

“I think the vote on Wednesday was how we help not whether we help,” he told the Worcester News. “We are definitely going to make sure that there is support for the most vulnerable people and the debate was about whether the best to do that was through free school meals or through the welfare system.

“The motion I voted for was providing extra support through the welfare system.”

Speaking about the £65 book – which could have paid for almost 30 free school meals – he said: “It was actually something that a previous caseworker ordered because she wanted to get some training on how to make referrals for cases where we thought people were at risk.

“We ordered that as a training resource and handbook.

“It’s to help the team make sure they know the right organisations to go to. We haven’t ordered it again this year because we already have one and we don’t feel need to subscribe to it annually.”

Mr Walker has previously served in the Scotland Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Watch: MPs vote against extending free school meals into holidays