Cabinet minister clashes with Marcus Rashford after she criticises his poverty claim on Twitter

Thérèse Coffey tackles footballer over free meals campaign - as senior Conservatives join growing revolt to force Boris Johnson into U-turn

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 16 June 2020 10:46 BST
Marcus Rashford pleads for Government rethink on free school meal vouchers

A cabinet minister has clashed with Marcus Rashford over his free school meals campaign, after criticising one of his claims about poverty.

Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, said the footballer was wrong to say poor parents could be left without water, tweeting: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”

The Manchester United star hit back immediately, tweeting: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second and make a difference #maketheuturn”

The clash came as other senior Conservatives joined a growing revolt to force Boris Johnson to provide free meal vouchers over the summer, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish leader, and George Freeman, a former minister, echoed Robert Halfon, the chair of the Commons education committee, who called Mr Rashford “a hero”.

No 10 has rejected the footballer’s passionate pleas to pay for meal vouchers on the grounds that £63m is being handed to local councils in England to help the poor.

But that £63m is little more than half of the estimated £110m cost of providing free school meals – as happened at Easter and in May.

And, warned Mr Halfon, speaking on BBC Breakfast, “The problem with these kinds of programmes is its very bureaucratic.

“People have to apply to the council, whereas the free school meal programme is very simple, families understand it and it goes to those who need it most.”

Food campaigners are pointing out that 700 holiday clubs that provided free food to tens of thousands of poor families last summer are unlikely to be running this year

And the department for education has been forced to retract a claim that free meals are “never” provided during holidays, acknowledging that has happened during the coronavirus pandemic so far.

Earlier, Mr Rashford piled further pressure on the prime minister in a series of early morning tweets ahead of a Commons debate on the controversy later.

“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,” the footballer wrote.

“When you turn on your kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee think of those parents who have had to default on electricity bill payments just to make ends meet having lost their jobs during the pandemic

“And when you head to the fridge to grab the milk, stop and recognise that parents of at least 200,000 children across the country this morning are waking up to empty shelving.”

Later, Ms Coffey tweeted him again, saying: “I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share.

“We are working to the same aim. I & this Govt will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond.”

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