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Covid-19 Inquiry should publish Sir Patrick Vallance's diary extracts with "freeloader" comment

LONDON, 11 December 2023 - At the Covid-19 Inquiry today lead counsel Hugo Keith KC asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign for free school meals to run through the school holidays.

Keith said: "An extract from Sir Patrick Vallance's diary refers to a meeting on the 13th of June 2021 where this issue came [up].  Sir Patrick has suggested that somebody in the meeting said "good working people pay for their children to eat and don't want freeloaders". He has suggested that in the context of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the chief whip. They couldn't have both said it, if anybody said it, but I want you to please answer whether or not anybody did say those words or whether you recollect anybody using them."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, denied making the comment and said he could not recall if anyone else had made the remark. 

Save the Children UK is now asking the Inquiry to publish the extract of Sir Patrick's diary that makes reference to the meeting where someone from government allegedly said free school meals families were "freeloaders". 

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, said after today's hearing: "It was appalling to hear that families receiving free school meals were allegedly referred to as 'freeloaders' by the current Prime Minister or the Chief Whip during the pandemic, according to Sir Patrick Vallance's diaries quoted in evidence.

"Considering the Prime Minister denied saying these words and doesn't recollect it being said by anyone, it is now of utmost public interest that this evidence is published by the Inquiry. If someone at the heart of government called people on free school meals "freeloaders", the public deserve to know.

"The debate around free school meals in the holidays led by footballer Marcus Rashford was the biggest discussion topic facing the poorest families during the pandemic. For the Prime Minister to repeatedly say he couldn't remember where he stood on the issue speaks to a lack of attention given to children's needs."