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The government's food tsar says the prime minister needs to do more to tackle food poverty


Henry Dimbleby, the government's food tsar, said ministers had to do more to tackle food poverty

The government's own food tsar told Boris Johnson today that he was "not doing enough" to tackle food poverty amid a growing Tory revolt over the free school meal series.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain and advisor to the government, said the problem of families not having enough to eat is "serious" and is "getting worse" with rising unemployment.

He said there will be large numbers of people "going to have difficulty feeding their families" because of the effects of the coronavirus crisis by the end of the year when he warned the "government really needs to act".

Mr Dimbleby's comments came after George Osborne, the ex-Chancellor, also put the boot in Mr Johnson when he said that Marcus Rashford had "nutmegs" the Prime Minister and that a U-turn in free school meals was now "inevitable".

The ex-Chancellor said the Manchester United and England footballer had "made the cabinet look like a football team in the schoolyard" and with Tory MPs "getting nervous" now, the Prime Minister will have no choice but to resign.

Earlier today, a millionaire minister had claimed that vacation activities were "more important" than free meals for disadvantaged children.

Nadhim Zahawi, the economy minister, said the "best way" to deal with poverty is through local government programs and the welfare system when he pointed out a pilot program that provided food and activities to poor children during the summer vacation.

But the married father of three, who made his living exploring oil and gas, risked an outcry when he claimed that their parents "value food, but activities are more important than food to them."

The government remains under heavy pressure to change the cost of free school meals as a campaign led by Mr Rashford continues to gain momentum and a Tory revolt escalates.

Activists want the program, which costs around £ 20 million a week, to be extended to future school holidays. Therefore, if it applies to all 13 weeks of school holidays, it could cost an estimated £ 260 million extra per year.

Mr Johnson came up on the subject yesterday when he refused to move, and Rishi Sunak did the same today when he said, "I don't think that having the central government come in and dictate things is always the right answer . "

But Number 10's approach has sparked widespread Tory anger, and MPs firmly believe that the government should turn around.

Conservative backers also signaled today that they could rebel over "incomprehensible" plans to eliminate a temporary hike in universal loan payments related to coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the government has come under fire from Council Presidents for accusing ministers of making short-term changes to funding to fight child poverty.

Councilor David Mellen, chairman of Nottingham City Council, alleged the government was guilty of double counting the funds made available to local authorities.

George Osborne, the former Tory Chancellor, claimed today that a government U-turn to free school meals is inevitable

George Osborne, the former Tory Chancellor, claimed today that a government U-turn to free school meals is inevitable

Mr Osborne said Marcus Rashford, a leading activist on the matter, "muscled" Boris Johnson, who has now had to admit it was "game over".

Mr Osborne said Marcus Rashford, a leading activist on the matter, "muscled" Boris Johnson, who has now had to admit it was "game over".

Mr Rashford, who arrives at the Manchester United training ground this morning, is trying to force the government to extend the free school lunch program to the school holidays

Mr Rashford, who arrives at the Manchester United training ground this morning, is trying to force the government to extend the free school lunch program to the school holidays

Who is Nadhim Zahawi, the millionaire Tory minister who is often sent out to fight for the government?

Nadhim Zahawi is junior minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) but has become one of the most trusted communicators on Downing Street during the coronavirus crisis.

Mr. Zahawi, a millionaire who made his living exploring oil and gas and also co-founded the YouGov election bureau, is often chosen by number 10 to represent the government in particularly difficult morning media rounds.

He is considered a safe couple by the government and is often sent to broadcasters on days when ministers are under attack.

However, he has suffered a number of missteps in recent months, particularly after claiming that parents in trouble would rather pay for meals for their children than accept the "label" attached to the flyer.

The 53-year-old married father of three has been a Member of Parliament for Stratford on Avon since 2010, but had waited a long time for his ministerial career to begin.

He was first elevated to the Tory front bank in 2018 under Theresa May as junior minister in the Ministry of Education.

He was then transferred to BEIS when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last July, and he was widely recommended for a much larger ministerial role in the near future.

Mr. Zahawi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and moved to the UK when he was nine.

The government faces growing demands for withdrawal because it refuses to extend the free school lunch program to future holidays.

Activists, led by Mr Rashford, argue the extension is necessary because many families are facing financial problems due to the coronavirus crisis.

So far, however, the government has refused to give a reason and has instead chosen to point out aid and funding that is already there.

Mr Osborne said today that Mr Rashford has "put nutmegs" on the UK state by forcing ministers to extend meals to school holidays earlier this year.

The former Tory MP said the government had therefore "set the precedent" from which it could not escape.

Mr Osborne argued that if the meal vouchers are "justified at Easter and then summer (thanks to Rashford) how can they not be justified at Christmas?"

He wrote in the Evening Standard and said, “W.If Tory MPs get nervous, another government U-turn is inevitable.

“We'll see whether it comes in the form of meal vouchers, new school holiday clubs or as a big bung for the councils.

& # 39; This Downing Street team came into office saying they were way smarter than their predecessors and wouldn't make the mistake of following headlines. That is a bold claim.

"But their ministers look like a soccer team in the schoolyard, and everyone panics after the ball – until a professional came on the field and stuck it in the back of their net."

Mr Osborne said the government must "realize that it is game over".

Previously, Mr Zahawi had risked a backlash when he told Sky News this morning, “The best way to deal with this is through both local government and the welfare system, and that is the right thing to do.

“We ran a pilot this summer that costs £ 9 million and is feeding 50,000 children. We shall learn from this.

& # 39; It's not just about the food. Like I said, I spoke to Carol Shanahan in Stoke on Trent (the chairman of Port Vale Football Club). She tells me that in wards where families want to protect their children during these activities, they also value the food, but more important than the food to them was the activity for their children. & # 39;

Mr. Zahawi's comments come after he insisted last week Parents in trouble would rather pay for meals for their children than accept the label that comes with the handouts.

The minister, The YouGov Voting Bureau co-founder said Universal Credit benefits were available to help families in need and suggested research by vacation clubs suggesting that parents would prefer to pay a small sum for groceries.

Rishi Sunak and Gavin Williamson blamed the free school meals

Rishi Sunak and Gavin Williamson are embroiled in a bitter guilt game over the government's refusal to extend the free school lunch program as Treasury Department sources claimed the Secretary of Education had not requested additional funding.

Over the weekend it was reported that the Treasury Department had blocked the £ 20 million a week required to roll out the program to cover future school holidays.

But the suggestion that Mr Sunak was guilty of "parking the finance bus" has sparked angry reaction from the Chancellor's allies, who suggest that Mr Williamson's supporters may have taught the story.

Mr. Sunak's allies said there was no way the Treasury Department blocked the funding as they claimed Mr. Williamson hadn't made an offer to provide the cash.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today program, “The investigation when we did the pilot shows that families didn't just want meals.

“Although they appreciated the meals, they didn't like it when they were labeled as free. They actually prefer to pay a modest amount, £ 1 or £ 2. & # 39;

It came when Mr Mellen accused the government of failing to keep promises to fund the fight against child poverty.

He told Sky News: "The government has reported a shortage of council funds for many years, 10 years of cuts.

“You promised earlier this year that you would stand shoulder to shoulder with us and meet the needs of our Covid costs and our loss of income.

“We are still missing this promise by tens of millions.

"I am not convinced that the government is not counting twice on the money it says we have to meet this need already."

He added, "They do that quite a bit."

The Prime Minister yesterday insisted that the government will not allow children to starve, but refused to bow to demands to extend the free school lunch program.

Mr Johnson highlighted the money already given to councils, saying the universal loan was "one of the best ways to help families during this difficult time".

Mr Sunak echoed a similar sentiment today when he told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat broadcast that "we should be able to trust local councils in various areas to make decisions for their people".

He added, "So I don't think that having central government come in and dictate is always the right answer."

The government has increased universal loan payments by £ 20 a week during the pandemic, but that increase is slated to end in April next year.

Tory MPs are now calling on ministers to keep the hike up longer as they also said the government should now simply turn around to get free school meals.

Former Cabinet Secretary Stephen Crabb said the government should have commented on the issue last week.

"I think the government should only deal directly with this issue, admit the issue of coupons, but be very clear and firm that coupons are not a long-term solution at best," he said.

Mr Crabb said the government created a political problem with the ministers talking about the role of universal credit.

He said the fact that it is a temporary hike is in the fine print, adding, "We are well on our way to reducing that money in just a few months, and I just can't understand that."

"You can not give money to some of the poorest people in the country and then go out in public and celebrate that fact and then say," Oh by the way, even though we may still be living with the aftermath of the pandemic this coming April, that money is around £ 20 each Week and cut 100 pounds per month.

"And that will give the government a lot more headaches than school meals."

Mr Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4's Today program that the government should do more to tackle food poverty.

He said, “The first thing to say is that this problem is real. It should go without saying that it is serious. It's immediate and it gets worse when unemployment gets worse and the government doesn't do enough.

“One in seven families already reports that they cannot afford enough food. Unemployment forecasts range from 1.4 million at the end of the year to 4.4 million compared to 500,000 at the beginning of the year.

“We know that before this crisis, 17 million workers had only £ 100 in savings to fall back on. We will have a situation where many people with high fixed costs, who for a moment could not imagine becoming unemployed at the beginning of the year, will find it difficult to support their families.

"The government really has to act."

He also opposed the suggestion that universal credit was the best way to help families in trouble feed their children.

He said, “I think the £ 20 increase is welcome like I said earlier. Universal credit isn't a huge amount of money for the vast majority of people – 59 percent of people on universal credit live in poverty.

“However, there is really strong evidence that supporting in-kind benefits by providing nutritious food directly to them is far more effective than increasing their total financial value by the same small amounts.

"I would say that in addition to sustaining the rise in universal credit, there is clear evidence that in-kind delivery works."

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