Government makes u-turn on provision of free school meals over summer after footballer's appeal
The government has now decided against ending the provision of free school meal vouchers for children in England at the end of term, extending the scheme to provide 1.3 million children with meals throughout the summer holidays.
Children from families which qualify for free school meals in England have received vouchers or parcels through the Covid-19 lockdown thus far, but the scheme was due to lapse at the beginning of the summer holidays with no government plans to extend it.
However, the government has now u-turned and opted to continue the scheme after a campaign headed up by Manchester United and England footballer, Marcus Rashford.
The prime minister’s spokesman announced that all children eligible for free school meals during term in England will continue to be provided for thanks to the “Covid summer food fund”, the cost of which is estimated to be around £120 million.
He added that the extension of the scheme was was "a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic" and would not continue beyond the summer holidays.
22-year-old Rashford welcomed the decision on Twitter, saying: "Look at what we can do when we come together. This is England in 2020."
On behalf of Boris Johnson, the PM’s spokesman took the time to credit Rashford’s “contribution to the debate around poverty” and the use of his profile as a sportsperson to “highlight important issues”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the move a “welcome u-turn”.
In response to the government having signalled that it would not provide free school meal vouchers in England outside of the school term, Rashford had written an open letter to MPs on Monday, calling on them to think of struggling parents who have seen their children go hungry and highlighting some of his personal experiences of relying on free school meals and having his parents use food banks during his childhood.
In his appeal to ministers, Rashford wrote: "Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going hungry?"
The 1.3 million children of school age eligible for free school meals in England equates to around 15.4 per cent of state school pupils, with distribution of such meals largely concentrated around areas of London, the north of England and the Midlands.
The Covid-19 free school meal scheme has also been in place in Scotland and Wales through the lockdown and was already confirmed to be running through the summer break.