Rashford prompts government U-turn on free school meals

Downing Street bows to pressure after letter from football star over summer provision for disadvantaged pupils

Marcus Rashford

The government is extending its free school vouchers scheme over the summer holidays in a major U-turn following pressure from England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

This afternoon Downing Street announced a £120m Covid Summer Food Fund.

News: Fund FSM over summer, urges top footballer Rashford

Related: DfE U-turn over funding free school meals in half-term

CoronavirusDfE makes Easter holidays FSM U-turn

Mr Rashford had written to the government calling for it to make a U-turn on its decision not to supply free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays.

Today he welcomed the news on social media.

The footballer, who himself received free school meals while growing up in Manchester, revealed yesterday that his mother was a single parent trying to raise five children, that he remembered being hungry and that he would sometimes eat at friends' houses if there wasn’t enough food on his own table.

In a letter, addressed to “To all the MPs in Parliament”, Mr Rashford said he had heard of headteachers personally covering the cost of food parcels for vulnerable families “after the school debit card has been maxed out”. He also said he relied on breakfast clubs as a child.

Today the prime minister's official spokesman told a remote Westminster briefing: "Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the prime minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.

"To reflect this we will be providing a Covid Summer Food Fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period.

"This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic.

"The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals."

It is understood payment will be through a one-off six-week voucher given to eligible families at the end of term to use in supermarkets.

The prime minister's spokesman said the measure would impact some 1.3 million children in England.

Referring to Mr Rashford, he said: "The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues."

The cost will come to £120 million in additional funding, Downing Street said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: "This is another welcome U-turn from Boris Johnson.

"The thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable.

"Well done to @MarcusRashford and many others who spoke out so powerfully about this issue. #HolidaysWithoutHunger."

Downing Street said the vouchers would amount to £15 a week per child.

The PM's spokesman said: "This is a specific measure over the summer."

Only this morning ministers had been defending their decision not to extend the voucher scheme. 

When asked about Mr Rashford's plea to allow vulnerable children food vouchers over the summer holidays, transport secretary Grant Shapps had said the government has been "wrapping its arms around the community" via the furlough scheme and payments to local government bodies instead.

The Department for Education says it will issue a statement later this afternoon following a special debate on free school meals taking place in parliament.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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