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New Children and Families Minister under fire for free school meals attacks

Brendan Clarke-Smith, announced as the new Children’s Minister after a week of chaos for the Government and mass resignations at the Department for Education, has come under fire after comments made during his election campaign where he said it was “not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”.

13/07/22

New Children and Families Minister under fire for free school meals attacks

The new Conservative Children’s Minister is facing criticism for comments made during his 2019 election campaign and the free school meals debate.

Brendan Clarke-Smith was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Children and Families) at the Department for Education last week. He was elected as Conservative MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire – a so-called ‘Red Wall’ seat – in 2019.

However, comments attacking free school meals by Clarke-Smith have resurfaced with the MP using a speech in parliament complaining that providing meals for those on the programme amounted to “nationalising children”. Clarke-Smith also commented at the time that it was “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”.

“If you keep saying to people that you’re going to give stuff away, then you’re going to have an increase I’m afraid,” the MP said during the 2019 election campaign.

Opposition MPs have labelled the appointment of the Bassetlaw MP to a position with responsibility for disadvantaged and vulnerable children as a “complete disgrace”.

Clarke-Smith’s appointment comes after a week of chaos for the Department for Education. Commenting on Twitter, the MP said was “excited” to join fellow MPs at the Department, including Andrea Jenkyns who recently made headlines for giving a middle-finger gesture to protestors.

“Together we’ll take forward ambitious plans to tackle the cost of childcare, support social workers, and protect children across the country,” Clarke-Smith wrote.

He takes over from Will Quince who resigned last week after defending the Prime Minister to broadcast journalists with erroneous information. Quince said Downing Street staff “categorically” assured him the Prime Minister “did not know of any specific complaints” about Chris Pincher before promoting him to Deputy Chief Whip – something we now know to be untrue.

“Thank you for meeting with me yesterday evening and for your sincere apology regarding the briefings I received from No 10 ahead of Monday’s media round, which we now know to be inaccurate,” Quince wrote in his resignation letter. “It is with great sadness and regret that I have no choice but to tender my resignation as Minister for Children and Families as I accepted and repeated those assurances in good faith.”

Michelle Donelan, brought in to replace Nadhim Zahawi as Secretary of State for Education, lasted just one full day – or just under 35 hours – in the role before also resigning. It is reported that Donelan will receive a £16,000 pay-out for her efforts. James Cleverly was then appointed to the role, becoming the third politician in the role in a week.

The raft of resignations has caused concern for some over the implementation of recent Government commitments to reforms in policies across children’s and adults’ social care.

Responding to the previous Children’s Minister’s resignation on Twitter, Chair of the recent Review of Children’s Social Care Josh MacAlister said: “Thank you for your support for the @reviewCSC, Will. You've been incredibly engaged in the process since day one. Good luck with what comes next.”

“There’s been too much churn in children’s ministers in recent years (7 in 7 years). It's essential that new DfE ministers make implementation of reforms for children, families and care experienced people a top priority in the months ahead. We cannot afford drift or delay.”

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