Rashford welcomes government’s change of heart over free school meals

Rashford welcomes government's change of heart over free school meals thumbnail

Footballer Marcus Rashford has welcomed the government’s change of heart over free school meals.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson phoned the Manchester United star on Saturday afternoon to tell him that £170m was being set aside to help feed disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays.

Rashford said he was “so proud” of those who had united behind his campaign and that he was “overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding”.

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In a statement, he said: “There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough, but the intent the government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.

“The steps made today will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 months, and that can only be celebrated.”

In October, parliament voted against extending the scheme, which provides free meals for around 1.3 million children in England.

A number of businesses and councils stepped up and vowed to fund it instead and more than one million people signed a petition created by Rashford calling for various measures to end child food poverty.

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The £170m will pay for the COVID Winter Grant Scheme to support families over the festive season while the Holiday Activities and Food programme will be extended to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

Healthy Start payments, which help expectant mothers and those on low incomes with young children to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, will rise from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April next year.

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Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”

Local authorities in England will receive the funding at the beginning of December and it will be administered by them, rather than schools.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the government of “incompetence and intransigence” in waiting until after the autumn half-term to make the announcement, and said ministers had “created needless and avoidable hardship for families across the country”.