Boris Johnson rejects Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals to half-term and Christmas holidays

No repeat of summer U-turn, Downing Street insists – putting PM on fresh collision course with footballer

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 15 October 2020 16:54 BST
Government U-turns on free summer meals for pupils after Rashford campaign

Poorer pupils will not receive free meals during school holidays, No 10 insists – putting Boris Johnson on a fresh collision course with footballer Marcus Rashford.

The Manchester United star has launched a fresh campaign to help hungry children, calling for vouchers for October’s half-term break and at Christmas.

In July, Rashford forced the prime minister into a humiliating U-turn, which delivered the free meals throughout the long summer holidays.

But the prime minister’s spokesperson insisted it would not be repeated – despite the spread of tougher restrictions across England, as coronavirus infections surge – insisting: “We are in a different position now.”

The England striker stepped up his campaign by launching a Commons petition, saying: “Whatever your feeling, opinion or judgement, food poverty is never the child’s fault.

“In 2020, no child in the UK should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day, or how they are going to access food come the holidays.”

Last month, the 22-year-old was awarded an MBE for his efforts in tackling child poverty – increasing his public status further.

The petition is also calling for free school meals to be extended to any household which receives benefits – to help a further 1.5million under-16s, during term-time.

But the spokesperson said: “We took that decision to extend free school meals during the pandemic, when schools were partially closed during lockdown.

“We are in a different position now. Schools are back open to all pupils and do not regularly provide food to pupils during term-time.

“We believe the best way to support families outside of term times is through universal credit, rather than schools subsidising meals.”

The Food Foundation charity has released data which suggests nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of eight to 17-year-olds reported they struggled to eat properly over the summer holidays.

That would mean 1.4 million children were in the same position, when extrapolated to reflect the size of the UK population.

Earlier, Louise Casey, a former homelessness adviser warned that people face “destitution” and may have to “prostitute themselves” without more Covid help.

Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, said: “School holidays are a financial pressure point which many families just can't afford at the moment. Hunger does not take a holiday.

“The government needs to put in place a permanent solution to school holiday hunger and implement the recommendations in the National Food Strategy.

“While children have been spared the virus, they have not been spared its economic impacts and we must act to protect them.”

The survey, of more than 1,000 children, found 6 per cent were worried about going hungry during the October half-term and 11 per cent said either they, or their families, had visited a foodbank in the summer break.

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