Coronavirus: England star Marcus Rashford forces government U-turn on free school meals
Free school meals will be provided to some children during the summer holidays, in a U-turn by the government sparked by England footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign.
The vouchers – for £15 a week – will be made available to around 1.3 million children in England who are currently eligible for the scheme, and will last for six weeks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s spokesman said he “understands children and parents face unprecedented situations” during the coronavirus outbreak.
He added that payment will be made through vouchers – most likely a one-off six-week voucher, to be given to eligible families at the end of term and able to be spent in supermarkets.
The spokesman said Mr Johnson welcomed Rashford’s “contribution to the debate around poverty and respects he’s been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues”.
The Department for Education had denied any change was likely in a statement on Monday, with a spokesperson saying: “The national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.”
But the government has changed tact after Manchester United striker Rashford kept up his campaign.
Responding to the news, the 22-year-old tweeted: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
He had initially published open letter to MPs on Monday, which was retweeted more than 140,000 times.
After initial pushback, he kept up the pressure for a second day – sparking a tetchy exchange with Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey on the social media site.
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He had already won the backing of Labour and two senior Tory MPs – Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons’ education select committee, and George Freeman, a former head of the Downing Street policy unit.
Downing Street claimed the extra support will cost around £120m – in addition to £63m already pledged for councils to help families and kids over the summer holidays.
Labour called it a welcome move and “victory for the 1.3 million children who were at risk of going hungry this summer”.
Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “It is thanks to the amazing work of Marcus Rashford and campaigners that the government has had no choice but to reverse their decision.
“The government must now confirm that this new money will be for the direct provision of free school meals to all eligible children.”
(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: England star Marcus Rashford forces government U-turn on free school meals