The government will score an own goal by rejecting Marcus Rashford’s call to extend free school meals

Editorial: Amid predictions of a return to Victorian levels of destitution, the government must bow to pressure from the England striker and provide the vouchers

Wednesday 21 October 2020 01:12 BST
Rashford has said he is paying close attention to proceedings in Westminster
Rashford has said he is paying close attention to proceedings in Westminster (PA)

In a national popularity contest between Marcus Rashford, gifted young Premier League star, and Steve Baker MP, self-styled “Brexit hardman” and former chair of the European Research Group, it is not difficult to imagine who might win. Mr Rashford’s advantage is amplified, of course, by his being on the side of hungry children looking for a meal over the school holidays. Mr Baker has monetarism on his side. 

And yet it seems Mr Rashford will not produce a repeat of his stunning campaign in the summer, which saw Boris Johnson order a swift U-turn on the issue. Now the mood in government seems to have changed. In short, it is getting tighter over money. The furlough scheme to protect jobs will end within days, to be replaced by a less generous support programme. Local authorities, such as Greater Manchester, forced into tier 3 restrictions are being given inadequate resources on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. And the concession to hard-pressed families facing food poverty during school holidays is not to be repeated, even though many face the same financial hardship that they did in the summer.

As The Independent’s Help The Hungry campaign has demonstrated, many families did not have enough fresh, nutritious food on the table even before the coronavirus crisis. As short-time working and unemployment have risen, so has the incidence of hardship. Dame Louise Casey, a former government adviser on homelessness, predicts a return to Victorian levels of destitution.  

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