Marcus Rashford succeeds with campaign for extended free school meals
The Government has announced that the children’s food voucher scheme will now run into the summer holidays.
Proud Marcus Rashford said “families have one less thing to worry about” after his campaign to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays led to a Government U-turn.
Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs this week urging the Government to reverse its decision not to award free school meals vouchers in England – for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible – outside of term time.
The Manchester United and England forward followed that up with an impassioned article in The Times on Tuesday, detailing his experience of growing up using food banks and receiving free meals as a child.
And the Prime Minister’s official spokesman 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. 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, Rashford wrote on Twitter: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
The striker followed that up by saying: “To all MPs. This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard.
“I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right. There is still a long way to go but I am thankful to you all that we have given these families just one less thing to worry about tonight.
“The wellbeing of our children should ALWAYS be a priority.”
The cost will be GBP 120million in additional funding, Downing Street said.
Referring to Rashford, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson 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.”
Former England striker Gary Lineker responded to Rashford’s successful campaign by tweeting “Great to see @ManUtd’s number 10 changing policy at number 10. Extraordinary campaign and win for the brilliant @MarcusRashford.”
Rashford, who has raised GBP 20million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has garnered significant media interest with his campaign.
He wrote in The Times: “Today I focus on a trophy that stands for something much bigger than football.
“A U-turn on the decision to stop the free food voucher scheme continuing over the summer holidays could help us reach the next round but we still have a very long way to go as a country to eventually lift the trophy.
“In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.
“I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education. I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because 10 years ago I was one of them.”
Rashford then added on Twitter: “When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey responded: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”
The Minister was widely criticised and Rashford replied: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference.”
The campaign received a further push on Monday night when Lineker asked the Government to consider the struggles of impoverished families during the coronavirus crisis.
“Hopefully the powers that be will listen. It seems strange that we have to be in a position where we are desperately arguing to try to get young people fed, and stop them being hungry.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters congratulated Rashford on his success, and said he was proud of how football had conducted itself generally during the period of lockdown.
There was criticism, including from Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for Premier League footballers to do more in the early stages, but Masters feels clubs and players deserve credit for their response.
“I think it’s fantastic. Congratulations to Marcus for his perseverance. The way he has gone about it has clearly moved Government to a really important and heart-moving cause,” he said.
“Some of the criticism has been unfair, but the level of support we have had from Government, from DCMS, has been fantastic and unstinting.
“But I think generally the way clubs have supported their communities, lots of players, ex-players getting involved and the players themselves have stepped up and made their voices heard on some of the issues society is facing, I think we can look back on the last three months with some pride on how football as an industry has responded to some of the challenges.”