Marcus Rashford vows to keep up free meals fight after No 10 refusal | Food poverty

Marcus Rashford has vowed not to give in after Downing Street rejected his call for poorer schoolchildren to be provided with free meals during holidays.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson indicated that ministers would not support giving pupils food during breaks including Easter and Christmas.

Rashford, who forced the government into a U-turn on providing meal vouchers over the summer, tweeted: “Merry Christmas kids … This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I.”

Rashford, who was awarded an MBE last week for his recent campaigning, has launched a parliamentary petition to end child food poverty. Within hours it had amassed more than 70,000 signatures.

It calls for three policy recommendations from the National Food Strategy to be implemented without delay:

  • Expand free school meals to under-16s in households where a parent is on universal credit.

  • Provide meals and activities during all holidays.

  • Increase the value of healthy start vouchers – which can be used by those who are pregnant or have a child under four to buy basic foods – from £3.10 to at least £4.25 a week.

A spokesman for the prime minister said on Thursday: “We took that decision to extend free school meals during the pandemic when schools were partially closed during lockdown. We’re in a different position now with schools back open to all pupils.

“It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays. We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through universal credit rather than government subsidising meals.”

The Tory chair of the Commons education select committee, Robert Halfon, joined Rashford in criticising the government’s refusal.

He tweeted: “This is very disappointing from@BorisJohnson @10DowningStreet. We need a long-term plan to combat child food hunger, especially given 32% of families have had a drop in income since March. @obr_uk [the Office for Budget Responsibility] predicts 336,500 more workers facing food insecurity due to rising unemployment.”

Rashford’s campaign over the summer won him widespread praise, and he formed a child poverty taskforce with major UK food brands. Launching the petition on Thursday, he said: “For too long this conversation has been delayed. Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of Covid-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children.”

He added: “Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs. Whatever your feeling, opinion or judgment, food poverty is never the child’s fault. Let’s protect our young. Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children.”

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