A Bromley councillor who claimed that many “many parents are actually better off since Covid” as she explained her opposition to extending free school meals has faced widespread criticism.

Mary Cooke, a Conservative representing Shortlands, made the comments in response to an email challenging her party’s vote against funding food vouchers for children on free school meals throughout half-term, following footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

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Mary Cooke, who is chair of the adult care and health policy committee, said: “Why should you or I, as Taxpayers, Council or otherwise, pay to feed children when that is the normal responsibility of parents.

“You can argue further as many parents, and others, are actually better off since Covid with working at home and consequential savings on many normal items of expenditure certainly could not advocate extending free school meals further, without means testing, which would have to be paid for by you and I.”

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Since February, the amount of people claiming benefits in London has doubled to almost half a million.

According to the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food poverty charity, 100,000 people used food banks for the first time between April and June.

Cllr Cooke’s comments received a backlash on social media, as users slammed her “shameful” response.

D. Rutherford said: “Wow, not a lot of empathy there.

“Extending free child meals would already be ‘means tested’ as that’s how children have been getting free school meals already!

“The government, and indeed some local councillors, have misread the public mood on this issue”

Children in year one and two qualify automatically for free school meals, while children from year 3 onwards are entitled if their parents receive income support.

Last Wednesday, Bromley’s three Conservative MPs voted against a Labour motion calling for free school meals to be made available outside term time for the next six months, including over the Christmas and Easter holidays.

In the following days councils across London, including Greenwich and Lewisham, announced they would use their own resources to extend the service throughout half-term.

Cllr Peter Fortune, Bromley’s deputy leader and executive member for children, education and families said residents shouldn’t “mistakenly think that…(council) support ends when the school days ends” as the Labour opposition called on the Council to “do the right thing”.

Mary Cooke was approached for comment.