RYEDALE’S MP has defended comments made during an exchange on social media with footballer Marcus Rashford.

The Manchester United player said Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, needed to “talk to families” experiencing food poverty following comments made on Twitter over the weekend.

Mr Hollinrake had praised the “extraordinary success” of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which saw diners save money on meals in a bid to boost restaurants’ recovery after the coronavirus lockdown.

However, Norton resident Bryan Barrett replied by saying the scheme had been warmly welcomed by the hospitality industry, adding, “Whilst we’re discussing food, why does it take footballer Marcus Rashford to make a stand for the hungry children in our society? Is that not the government’s job?”

Mr Hollinrake responded that “where they can, it’s a parent’s job to feed their children”.

Rashford, who led a successful campaign to force the government to u-turn and extend free school meals to children from low-income families over the summer holidays, sent a message to Mr Hollinrake saying: “I would urge you to talk to families before tweeting. To this day I haven’t met one parent who hasn’t wanted or felt the responsibility to feed their children.”

The 22-year-old footballer has talked previously about having using a food voucher scheme as a child and earlier this week announced an alliance with the food industry to tackle child food poverty.

In a response to the exchange, which was commented on by thousands of people from different parts of the country, and covered in the national press, Mr Hollinrake said: “Of course, I do not want to see children go hungry and I am not against making parts of our welfare system more generous and have often argued for this in Parliament.

“However, this must be set in the context of the need to increase taxes if we want to do that.”

Mr Hollinrake added: “I also believe that we need to trust our citizens and that welfare should be paid directly to those in need so that they can decide how to spend it, rather than the Government dictating how it is spent through an inevitably bureaucratic voucher system.”

In response to the comments made on Twitter, Mr Barrett said: “Nobody is stating that it isn’t a parent’s responsibility to raise and feed their children.

“My whole argument is that there are parents who can’t. Low wage, zero-hour contracts and Universal Credit are all contributory factors in child poverty.

“Too many people in Ryedale are living a hand to mouth existence, and it only takes illness or redundancy to push people into poverty.

“This is evidenced by the increased use of foodbanks over the last few years. Whatever people’s opinions are, it is never the child’s fault. No child should go hungry in our country.

“Mr Hollinrake’s comments could be misconstrued with an implication that people on benefits are not looking after children and spending their hand-outs on non-essential items.”

Cllr Di Keal, who co-ordinated the setting up of the community kitchens during the coronavirus lockdown, said: “The work of the Ryedale Volunteer Network over the last few months has illustrated just how many people need food aid in Ryedale and this situation is not going to improve anytime soon, as more and more people look set to loose their jobs when the furlough scheme ends.

“Mr Hollinrake needs to open his eyes to the other side of Thirsk and Malton, where many people are struggling just to put food on the table and are increasingly reliant on Foodbanks and other sources of food aid.”