Ministers 'out of touch’ over child hunger

Headteachers criticise government after it rejects Marcus Rashford's Christmas holidays free school meals campaign
15th October 2020, 6:02pm

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Ministers 'out of touch’ over child hunger

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/ministers-out-touch-over-child-hunger
Child Hunger: Headteachers Have Criticised The Government For Rejecting Marcus Rashford's Call For Free School Meals To Be Provided Over The Christmas Holiday

Headteachers have levelled criticism at the government over its rejection of footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals over the Christmas holidays.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "The government's response today is out of touch with public opinion and with the real-life hardships that many families are facing. We are not in normal times. Normal solutions like universal credit may not be enough.


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"Without doubt, the disruption to people's livelihoods as a result of Covid will mean that even more children are plunged into poverty."

Earlier today, No 10 rejected a call from Rashford to provide free school meals to children during all school holidays to end food poverty.

Marcus Rashford's call to expand free school meals

A No 10 spokesman said: "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 England striker's petition urging the government to go further in tackling child hunger hit 100,000 signatures just 10 hours after it was launched.

The petition - which calls for food to be provided during all holidays and for free school meals to be expanded to all households on universal credit - will now be considered for debate by MPs after securing the signatures.

The Welsh government has decided to provide free school meals during the school holidays until Easter next year.

Rashford, who forced a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays, has hit back at the comments.

The Manchester United and England footballer, who has just been made an MBE for his services to vulnerable children, said: "Merry Christmas kids…

"It's also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising…

"This is not going away any time soon and neither am I…"

Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said on Twitter: "This is very disappointing from @BorisJohnson @10DowningStreet.

"We need a long-term plan to combat child food hunger, especially given 32 per cent of families have had a drop in income since March."

Mr Whiteman added: "Back in the spring, shamefully, the government had to be compelled to increase support for these children and their families. As the pandemic continues into the winter and next year, more support will be needed.

"Children who are hungry cannot learn as well as they might be able to. Free school meals at least guarantee that children get one nutritious meal a day. We must do all that we can to extend that entitlement to every child that is going hungry.

"Currently one in 10 eligible children miss out on their free school meals entitlement. NAHT has long called for children to be automatically enrolled to receive free school meals, using the information councils already hold about their family situation. This would take away the barrier of stigma for parents."

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