Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has said Unicef “should be ashamed of itself” for pledging £25,000 to feed hungry children in the UK, accusing the UN agency of “playing politics”.
It emerged on Wednesday that – for the first time in its 70-year history – Unicef had launched a domestic emergency response in a bid to help feed hungry children affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
It has pledged £25,000 to help send breakfast boxes over the school Christmas holidays to 1,800 families in south London struggling as a result of the pandemic.
The agency said the outbreak of Covid-19 was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the Second World War.
But when Rees-Mogg – who is the leader of the House of Commons – was asked about this by Labour’s Zarah Sultana on Thursday morning, he hit out at Unicef.
Sultana, who is the MP for Coventry South, said: “For the first time ever, Unicef, the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children, is having to feed working-class kids in the UK.
“But while children go hungry, a wealthy few enjoy obscene riches. From Tory donors handed billions in dodgy contracts to people like the Leader of the House, who is reportedly in line to receive an £800,000 dividend payout this year.
“So will [Rees-Mogg] give government time to discuss the need to make him and his super-rich chums pay their fair share so that we can end the grotesque inequality that scars our society?”
Rees-Mogg hit back in response to the question, saying: “I think it is a real scandal that 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 to one council. It is a political stunt of the lowest order.”
He said the government has committed to reducing child poverty, has expanded free school meals to all five- to seven-year-olds and is spending £400m on supporting vulnerable children, families and people.
The MP for North East Somerset added: “Since 2010 to 2018/19, there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty in this country.
“This is a record success of conservatism and Unicef should be ashamed of itself.”
His comments have been slammed by Labour MPs, including deputy leader Angela Rayner.
Meanwhile, Sultana – who asked the question in parliament – added: “It’s shameful for kids to go hungry. It’s not shameful to feed them.”
Responding to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments in the Commons, Anna Kettley – who is the director of Unicef UK’s programmes and advocacy – said: “Unicef UK is responding to this unprecedented crisis and building on our 25 years’ experience of working on children’s rights in the UK with a one-off domestic response, launched in August, to provide support to vulnerable children and families around the country during this crisis period.
“In partnership with Sustain, the food and farming alliance, over £700k of Unicef UK funds is being granted to community groups around the country to support their vital work helping children and families at risk of food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.”
She added: “Unicef will continue to spend our international funding helping the world’s poorest children. We believe that every child is important and deserves to survive and thrive no matter where they are born.”