Boris Johnson claims he was unaware of Marcus Rashford school meal campaign before U-turn

PM personally congratulated the footballer for 'drawing attention to the issue'

Johnson claims he was unaware of Rashford's campaign until 'today'

Boris Johnson has claimed he was unaware of footballer Marcus Rashford‘s free school meals campaign until Tuesday when the government U-turned on plans to scrap vouchers over the summer.

The prime minister said he had personally congratulated the Manchester United forward on his efforts to draw attention to the issue of disadvantaged children going hungry over the holidays.

Mr Johnson claimed he only became aware of the footballer’s high-profile bid to extend the free school meals voucher scheme on Tuesday – despite his spokesman being pressed on the issue by journalists on Monday.

Some 1.3 million eligible pupils in England will be given supermarket vouchers over the summer break, No 10 announced, after caving in to pressure from Mr Rashford and campaigners to continue free school meals over the holidays.

Free school meals are not traditionally offered over the summer holidays but exceptions had already been made for half term and Easter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Johnson told the Downing Street press conference: “I talked to Marcus Rashford today to congratulate him on his campaigning, which to be honest I only became aware of very recently – today.

“I thank him for what he has done. I think he is right to draw attention to this issue, and basically we’ve got large numbers of kids who haven’t been able to get back into school.

“We’ve got a problem about getting kids back into school in the way that we would want, for the reasons that people understand, though actually there are lots of kids who could go back to school now who aren’t going back to school and I’d like to see that happen.

“I do think it’s right that we should be looking after families of the most vulnerable and the neediest right now and that’s why we have got the Covid summer food plan, which we’ve announced today, and I hope it will make a big difference to those kids and those families.”

The U-turn came after Mr Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs calling for the government to reverse its decision not to award free school meals vouchers to vulnerable children outside of term time.

On Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesman said he would reply to Mr Rashford’s letter.

The spokesman told journalists: “The PM will respond to Marcus Rashford’s letter as soon as he can – he has been using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues.”

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