Downing Street announced a £120 million fund which will benefit some 1.3 million children in England.
THE UK GOVERNMENT is set to extend a free school meal voucher scheme for children beyond the current school term following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
The 22-year-old Manchester United and England striker had urged the authorities to make a U-turn and allow vulnerable children who have been getting free meals during the coronavirus lockdown to continue receiving them in the summer holidays.
Rashford, who has raised £20 million (€22 million) to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has admitted to using food banks and receiving free meals as a child.
In an open letter to all MPs in the UK parliament yesterday, he said: “The [British] government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.
I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
As well as the letter, Rashford appeared on BBC Breakfast and wrote an article in the London Times to make his case for vulnerable children to continue receiving the meals.
“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that – and it’s very difficult to find a way out. It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change – that’s why I wrote it,” he told BBC Breakfast.
The England international won praise from many quarters for speaking out on the issue.
Until this afternoon, however, the government’s position had been it wouldn’t be extending the scheme. A UK Department for Education spokesman said the national voucher scheme “will not run during the summer holidays”.
And yesterday, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister would respond to Rashford’s letter “as soon as he can”.
In a statement today, Johnson’s official spokesperson said it would now be extending the free school meal voucher scheme at a cost of £120 million, with 1.3 million children set to benefit from the scheme.
The spokesperson 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.
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“This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals.”
Reacting to the news, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “welcome u-turn from Boris Johnson” as “the thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable”.
After the news was announced, Rashford wrote on Twitter: “Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
With reporting from the Press Association