Boris Johnson has rejected a new petition from footballer Marcus Rashford, calling on the PM to entend free schools meals to more children and provide food vouchers over the autumn half-term and Christmas to protect poor children from hunger.
The new petition, which had already attracted close to 80,000 signatures at the time this story was published, argues that this measure is needed to “stop holiday hunger”.
It follows an earlier campaign by the England and Manchester United star which humiliated the PM into providing free meal vouchers during the Coronavirus lockdown.
The petition, which is supported by a number of charities, says children should not be left to go hungry because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on low-income families.
It highlights how “14% of parents and 10% of children have experienced food insecurity over the last 6 months”.
The petition also draws attention to the ever-growing number of families who are turning to food banks, with demand expected to rise by 61% this winter compared to the same period last year.
To #endchildfoodpoverty, the petition calls on the UK government to:
- Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit
- Provide meals & activities during all holidays
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.
However, No.10 has seemingly already rejected the appeal, despite the high number of signatories and a similar policy being adopted by the Welsh government.
A spokesperson 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.”
A defiant Rashford tweeted: “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 anytime soon and neither am I.”
Former PM Gordon Brown commended his actions. “Marcus Rashford deserves all our support in requesting that children who receive free school meals should benefit from the Holiday Activities and Food programme during the midterm break and the Christmas holidays as well as in the summer holidays,” he said.
He continued: “We hope we can see an immediate response from the Government before the autumn break to support low income UK families as we approach one of the toughest winters on record.
“I also support action to deliver the three objectives Marcus has chosen from the report of the food strategy review.”
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, added: “School holidays are a financial pressure point which many families just can’t afford at the moment. Hunger does not take a holiday.”