WEST Oxfordshire MP Robert Courts ‘needs to start to listen to the people of Witney’ following his decision to vote against extending free school meals.

Last Wednesday, MPs voted down Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals for disadvantaged children from the October half-term period until the Easter holiday next year.

The decision by MPs, including all Oxfordshire’s Conservative MPs, has led to fierce criticism.

Following Mr Courts’ decision to vote against Labour’s proposal, local businesses have pledged to support the district’s youngsters, while an online fundraiser and petition have been created.

See also: Oxford City Council offers food vouchers to vulnerable children this half-term

Outrage culminated in residents posting paper plates on the MP’s business address door at Waterloo House in Witney’s High Street on Monday.

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Witney Town Council leader Luci Ashbourne said Mr Courts needs to listen the people of the town, following the reaction from residents.

She said: “This incredible local response demonstrates the strength of feeling surrounding the issue, and the expectation that something needs to be done.

“The generosity and kindness from so many local businesses, and the creation of a dedicated crowdfunder have all sent a heartening message of solidarity and support to anyone in need.

“Sadly this hasn’t been replicated by our MP, who needs to start to listen to the people of Witney and represent their voices and interests.”

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Several businesses have pledged to support children over the half-term period, including: Bakers Butchers, Coffeesmith, Delice, Eastern Cuisine, Hawthorn House, Huffkins Bakery & Tea Rooms, The Rowing Machine, Ue Coffee Roasters and Wates & Co Delicatessen.

Witney resident Rachel Gillibrand has created an online petition, ‘Against Child Hunger: A letter from Witney residents’, signed by over 500 people and counting.

She said: “When I heard the news that over 300 Tory MPs, including our own MP Robert Courts, voted against continuing to support the voucher scheme over the holiday period for children who are entitled to free school meals, I was very disappointed.

“In recent days, so many businesses within Witney, alongside members of our community have come forward with their support.

Read more: Marcus Rashford lists businesses in Oxfordshire village handing out free meals

“Judging by this and the strength of feeling through the petition, it is clear that many people in Witney are not happy with the decision.

“The fact that anybody has to do this, especially when they themselves are struggling, is absolutely absurd and it is quite shameful that our own MP voted against the welfare of the families within his constituency.

“Food is not a luxury, it is a basic human right, it should not be up for political debate – and yet they voted against the welfare of thousands of children.

“The petition is a reminder to Robert Courts that every single one of us is a voter within his constituency, and we did not vote for any child to go hungry.”

See also: Couple home baking during lockdown open own store

As well as the petition, fellow resident Sam Edney has created an online fundraiser which has so far raised over £4,000 to support local children.

“The initial idea was just to cover the costs of a few breakfasts, but it has quickly turned into something bigger,” he said.

“Most people look around Witney and see a leafy-green, well-to-do town – and for many, that may be the case.

“However, I’ve heard stories of parents who haven’t eaten for days so they can make sure their kids don’t have to go without.

“Feeding kids should not be political, it isn’t ‘left’ or ‘right’, it’s just basic decency and it’s good to know that a lot of Witney people and businesses recognise that.”

Read more: Window art at closed Randolph Hotel

Responding to recent events, Mr Courts said: “The Government has invested billions of pounds to support vulnerable families through the coronavirus pandemic, and will continue to do so to help those in need during the Christmas holidays.

“An additional £9 billion has been put into the welfare system, including an increase to the Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit basic element by over £1,000 this year.

“Local Housing Allowance has been increased and the Government has created a £180 million fund to help struggling families with their rent.

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“An additional £63 million has also been made available to local authorities to ensure that targeted support is available to those needing help with food and other essentials.

“Oxfordshire County Council has received over half a million pounds from this fund, enabling them to target support at local families in need.

“I remain committed to ensuring that effective support is available to those who most need it so we can get through this pandemic together.”