Jacob Rees-Mogg brands UNICEF donation to feed UK children a ‘political stunt’ – and says it ‘should be ashamed’
One of the world’s leading children’s organisations should be “ashamed” of a “political stunt of the lowest order” by helping to feed children in the UK, a cabinet minister has told MPs.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, hit out at UNICEF after the organisation this week pledged £25,000 to the charity School Food Matters.
The charity will use the money to supply thousands of breakfast boxes over the two-week Christmas school holidays to vulnerable children and families in Southwark, south London.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana spoke of UNICEF’s action in the Commons on Thursday.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
And she went on to ask: “So will you 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?”
In response, the cabinet minister told MPs that he thought UNICEF “should be ashamed of itself”.
He said: “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.”
In response to Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The only people who should be ashamed of themselves are Boris Johnson and the rest of his government for letting our children go hungry.”
“In one of the richest countries in the world, our children should not be forced to rely on a charity that usually works in war zones and in response to humanitarian disasters,” she added.
Meanwhile, UNICEF – whose work has been highlighted by footballer and food poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford – revealed it was providing more than £700,000 to support children and families during the coronavirus crisis.
Anna Kettley, UNICEF UK’s director of 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 £700,000 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.
“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.”
Downing Street declined to support Mr Rees-Mogg’s view that UNICEF’s actions were a “political stunt”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “I would point to action we’ve taken to make sure children haven’t gone hungry throughout the pandemic such as the extended eligibility for free school meals, holiday food programme, and £15m for food distribution charities.”
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