Maldon's MP has defended his decision to vote against a proposal to extend free school meals during the school holidays to help families.

John Whittingdale was one of 321 MPs to vote against the Labour motion on Wednesday (October 21) to extend the scheme until Easter 2021.

England and Manchester United player, Marcus Rashford urged politicians to unite to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”

Mr Whittingdale said: " I of course recognise the importance of ensuring that no child goes hungry.

"However, the vote last night was after a debate about how this can be achieved rather than whether it should be done at all.

"Opening schools to feed children year round is not a sensible option and it is far better that parents instead receive direct financial help through tax credits or universal credit to feed their children at home during the holidays.

"Free school meals are not a general welfare measure.

"They are aimed at providing healthy meals for children at school to ensure disadvantaged students can learn to the best of their ability.

"Provision for free schools meals has always been during term time only.

"While schools were restricted from opening to all pupils during lockdown, additional support was given to families in recognition of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for schools during this time but schools are now open once again.

"The Government has already increased universal credit by £20 a week, funded councils to provide emergency food assistance to families, and allocated £63 million to councils for families in hardship.

"The Treasury has also supported families through this difficult period with almost £53 billion worth of income protection schemes, and £9.3 billion of additional welfare payments."

Mr Whittingdale was among a dozen Essex MPs who voted with the Government.

Robert Halfon, MP for Harwich was the only Essex MP who voted for the motion.