Ben Bradley urged to apologise over free school meals tweets

Conservative MP linked vouchers given to low-income families to ‘crack dens’ and ‘brothels’

Pressure is mounting on Ben Bradley to apologise for a Twitter tirade in which the Conservative MP was accused of linking free school meals with “crack dens” and “brothels”.

Bradley, who this week voted against extending free school meals for deprived children during the holidays until Easter 2021, said the since-deleted post had been taken out of context.

In it, he wrote: “At one school in Mansfield 75% of kids have a social worker, 25% of parents are illiterate. Their estate is the centre of the area’s crime.

“One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending FSM doesn’t reach these kids.”

Bradley then replied to a tweet in which another user said “£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel really sounds like way forward with this one”, writing: “That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did …”

It comes as the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, Tobias Ellwood, appeared to come out in support of free school meals provision over school holidays on Saturday.

“Holiday FSM provision is clearly well received – a simple and practical vehicle to [support] families,” he said. “Let’s re-visit how additional welfare funding is spent & support FSMs.”

The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, said: “Notwithstanding the fact that the vouchers in summer could only be used to purchase food, this stigmatisation of working-class families is disgraceful and disgusting.”

The shadow children’s minister, Tulip Siddiq, has written to the co-chair of the Conservative party, Amanda Milling, saying: “I am sure that you will want to make clear that this kind of crass stigmatisation of children from poorer families is deeply damaging, and distance yourself from Mr Bradley’s misleading and troubling comments.

“In the meantime, I respectfully ask you to request an apology from Mr Bradley to the millions of children from lower-income households who benefit from free school meal support.”

Bradley said his controversial tweet had been “totally taken out of context”. He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful.

“The point I’m making is we need to wrap our arms as a society around those families. That’s why government has given that money to local government because they are best placed working with social services, working with schools to be able to find those families, to target them, to help them in a more holistic way than meal vouchers.”

A vote, backed by Labour, to offer free school meals to children during half-term was defeated by 322 votes to 261 on Wednesday.

Bradley, who became the MP for former Labour heartland Mansfield in 2017, posted consecutive tweets on Friday defending his stance on the motion.

The MP, who attracted criticism in 2018 over an unearthed 2012 blogpost in which he suggested unemployed “wasters” should have vasectomies to stop them having multiple children, has also locked horns with Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester striker who launched the FSM campaign.

Bradley, who said he voted “to target funding more closely at those most in need”, invited Rashford to visit “one of the country’s most deprived schools” in his constituency to discuss the idea with its headteacher.

Schools in the area have since rejected his comments. St Edmund’s C of E primary school in Mansfield Woodhouse wrote an impassioned message to parents on Facebook.

The post said: “We know the truth about families who qualify for free school meals and it is nothing like what he suggests. I strongly suggest you let him know the truth too. He is your representative in our country’s parliament after all.”

In turn, Bradley asked the school to remove “this partisan nonsense”, insisting that an attached screenshot of his tweets “entirely misses and misrepresents the context of the conversation”.

Selaine Saxby, the Tory MP for North Devon, also sparked anger over comments she made about local businesses giving food away for free.

A screenshot of a Facebook post in her name, since removed, said: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

She later said her comments had been taken out of context. “I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused,” she said.


Amy Walker

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'Disgusting': Charities and headteacher react to Mansfield MP's free school meals tweets
Organisers at food banks and child poverty groups dealing with surges in demand say Ben Bradley is ‘misinformed’

Amy Walker

24, Oct, 2020 @5:29 PM

Article image
High-profile Tories back Labour bill on free meals in school holidays
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nicky Morgan among those supporting Frank Field’s proposals to help poorer children who may go hungry

Jessica Elgot Political reporter

30, Aug, 2017 @6:01 AM

Article image
What does Labour's school meals policy mean for families, teachers and politicians?
Jeremy Corbyn may be on to a winner politically but there are implications for welfare, health and education

Patrick Butler, Sarah Boseley, Nadia Khomami and Jessica Elgot

06, Apr, 2017 @5:11 PM

Article image
Support grows for Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign
Politicians and celebrities of all stripes come out in support of plan rejected by government

Sally Weale, Patrick Butler and Heather Stewart

23, Oct, 2020 @7:49 AM

Article image
Free school meals: Johnson under renewed pressure from council leaders
Local authorities attack prime minister’s suggestion £63m could cover needs over half-term and Christmas

Peter Walker and Jessica Elgot

26, Oct, 2020 @12:49 PM

Article image
Over £1m owed by families in Scotland who cannot pay for school meals
Exclusive: Report for Aberlour children’s charity reveals scale of school meal debt for first time

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

06, Jun, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Council leaders call for funding for free school meals over Easter
Councils in England have been told they will have to find the money for meals themselves

Steven Morris

05, Apr, 2020 @10:34 AM

Article image
No 10 under growing pressure to U-turn over free school meals
Tory MPs angry at damage from government’s refusal to support Marcus Rashford’s campaign

Simon Murphy, Ben Quinn and Patrick Butler

25, Oct, 2020 @9:00 PM

Article image
Pressure mounts on No 10 to extend free school meals holiday scheme
Labour writes to backbench Tory MPs as Marcus Rashford’s petition nears 300,000 signatures

Heather Stewart

20, Oct, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals after Rashford campaign
‘Covid summer food fund’ announced after pressure from footballer and campaigners

Rajeev Syal, Heather Stewart and Helen Pidd

16, Jun, 2020 @7:09 PM