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Marcus Rashford ‘overwhelmed’ at community response to free school meals over half-term

Hundreds of businesses and scores of councils offer support over break

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 24 October 2020 17:48 BST
Marcus Rashford said he is 'overwhelmed' at the response to supporting vulnerable children through half-term
Marcus Rashford said he is 'overwhelmed' at the response to supporting vulnerable children through half-term (PA)

Marcus Rashford has said he feels “overwhelmed” at the response from communities vowing to help feed vulnerable children over half-term amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Councils, restaurants and cafes have offered free food or vouchers to families in need, with the England footballer sharing initiatives across the country on Twitter. 

It comes after the government defeated a Commons motion tabled by Labour this week to extend free school meal vouchers through holidays in England until Easter.

Mr Rashford – who has been campaigning against child food poverty – said he was “truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support” to help vulnerable children this week.

“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself more British tonight,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“You want to talk about celebrities and superstars, look no further than my Twitter feed and that’s exactly what you’ll find,” he added.

Around 40 councils have now announced schemes to feed vulnerable children during half-term, including with food vouchers, served meals, payments to families and hampers.

Local businesses across England have also offered to put on free food to those in need.

“No parent should struggle to feed their children,” tweeted Grandpa Greene’s ice cream parlour in Oldham, in one of the many offers shared by Rashford. “We’re offering FREE LUNCH BAGS for any child on free school meals during half term.”

Rashford tweeted on Friday evening: “I’m signing off with a feeling of pride tonight. The superstars of this nation lie in local communities.”

Asked repeatedly at a Westminster media briefing whether the prime minister would applaud or praise those offering help on Friday, a 10 Downing Street spokesperson said only that Boris Johnson had been “clear on our position” that “free school meals will continue during term time and that he wants to continue to support families throughout the crisis so they have cash available to feed kids if they need to”.

Mr Johnson backed down on his refusal to extend free school meals through the summer holidays after a sustained campaign by Rashford.

Calls have been made for a Conservative MP to step down after he was accused of stigmatising working class families in a controversial tweet over the summer free school meal scheme on Friday.

Ben Bradley replied to a tweet which described the free school meals programme as “£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel” with a now-deleted comment that said: "That's what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did..."

He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday his tweet had been “taken out of context”.

Amid the fallout from this week’s Commons vote, a government minister defended the decision not to extend free school meals over upcoming holidays on Saturday, saying there was a "better way" of dealing with the issue.

Read here: Follow our live blog for all the latest updates on Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals over the holidays

"We have used all the levers possible to try to make sure that people are safe and well as we go forward,” Baroness Barran told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "We have provided more money through Universal Credit, we have provided more money to local authorities and we believe that is a better way of approaching this problem."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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