About 1.3 million children will be able to get free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays, following a campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford, the 22-year-old Manchester United forward, started a campaign welcoming the additional six-weeks of vouchers for eligible children, saying:
“Look at what we can do when we come together.”
Leader of the Labour party, Sir Keir Starmer, has said that the move was a “welcome U-turn” from the government. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has praised Marcus Rashford’s “contribution to the debate around poverty”.
This comes after children were eligible for free school meals in England, by claiming shopping vouchers weekly while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All of the children that are eligible for free school meal vouchers while in term time in England will be able to benefit from the newly announced “COVID summer food fund”, No 10 has said.
The support from the food vouchers works out as around £15 a week per eligible recipient, and will cost the government about £120m.
Chris Mason, the political correspondent for the BBC, has said that he was told this new fund was supplied by “additional funding agreed by the Treasury”.
In an open letter to Members of Parliament that he posted on Monday, the Manchester United player gave examples of his own experience of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up to help express the need for action.
Marcus Rashford has asked others to empathise with struggling parents, such as many of them who have had their “water turned off” amid the nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and whose children have gone without food.
This comes after a mother of six from Newcastle has complained after waiting more than five hours for a £15 free school meal voucher. The meal voucher scheme launched by the government on March 31st has received a lot of criticism.
according to the latest available data, almost 1.3 million school children across England, which accounts for 15.4% of state-educated students, were eligible for and being provided with free school meals throughout the nationwide lockdown.
Official figures for 2019 showed the need for free school meals was at its greatest in the north of England, parts of London and the Midlands, where between 25% and 33% of all students were getting the free meals.
The official spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the prime minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.”
“To reflect this we will be providing a COVID summer food fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period.”
Downing Street went on to say that the new measures are in response to the “unique circumstances of the pandemic”, and said that these measures would not continue after the summer holidays. Children who already qualify for free school meals will be the only ones eligible.
Referring to Mr Rashford, he added: “The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues.”