‘Scandal… political stunt,’ says UK minister on Unicef feeding poor kids in London

Updated on Dec 17, 2020 07:00 PM IST
Asked about the Unicef’s initiative, Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the UK House of Commons with a cabinet ministerial status, criticised the UN body, saying it should be ashamed of itself
Britain's Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London.(REUTERS/FILE)
Britain's Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London.(REUTERS/FILE)
Hindustan Times, London | By

A cabinet minister in the UK has described the Unicef’s effort to fund a school project in London to feed hungry children hit by the Covid-19 pandemic as a “scandal” and a “political stunt”.

Labour Party leaders called it a “disgrace” that children in one of the richest countries in the world had to be fed by the Unicef, which usually focuses on the poor in developing countries.

The UN organisation is spending £25,000 to provide breakfasts in 25 schools in London’s Southwark.

Asked about the initiative in the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House with a cabinet ministerial status, criticised the UN organisation, saying it should be ashamed of itself.

An official spokesperson said lowest-paid families were being supported through the pandemic.

Responding to a remark from Labour MP Zarah Sultana, Rees-Mogg said, “I think it is a real scandal that the Unicef should be playing politics in this way when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived, countries of the world where people are starving, where there are famines and where there are civil wars. And they make cheap political points of this kind, giving, I think, 25,000 (British pounds) to one council. It is a political stunt of the lowest order. The Unicef should be ashamed of itself.”

Charity organisations have highlighted the growing dependence in recent years on food banks, which provide free groceries and food to people in need. The Unicef is funding the School Food Matters project that supports children over the Christmas period and later.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said, “The fact that the Unicef is having to step in to feed our country’s hungry children is a disgrace and (UK PM) Boris Johnson and (UK chancellor) Rishi Sunak should be ashamed.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world. Our children should not have to rely on humanitarian charities that are used to operating in war zones and in response to natural disasters.”

“Charities and businesses across the country have done a brilliant job of stepping in where the government has failed, but it should have never come to this,” she added.

Anna Kettley, the director of programmes at Unicef UK, said, “This is the Unicef’s first ever emergency response within the UK, introduced to tackle the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus crisis and reach the families most in need.”

“This funding will help build stronger communities as the impact of the pandemic worsens, but ultimately a longer-term solution is needed to tackle the root causes of food poverty, so no child is left to go hungry,” she added.

A government spokesperson said, “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond. That’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions of pounds and introduced the £170 million Covid winter grant scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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