The ruling Conservative Government planned to the free school meal voucher system which had been provided for low-income children while school ended over the summer holidays. A campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford put pressure on the government to maintain the scheme in order to combat increasing financial vulnerability.
Westminster announced on Tuesday that it will be extending the free school meal voucher system in England over the summer holidays in a reversal of its previous pledge to end them.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said that the government “fully understands” that the children and parents are facing an “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”.
“The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals. As the PM has said it is our intention, to get all pupils back into school in September”, the spokesperson said.
The move follows a national campaign by 22-year old Manchester United Star Marcus Rashford, who had been putting pressure on the government to retain the voucher system throughout the holiday period.
AP Photo / Jon Super
Marcus Rashford controls the ball
Rashford welcomed the move in a tweet saying that this is what can be achieved when “we come together”.
I don’t even know what to say.
Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 16, 2020
The opposition Labour Party, who had also been calling for the inclusion of free school meals in funding, also supported the decision. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the move and praised Rashford for his work.
This is another welcome u-turn from Boris Johnson.
The thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) June 16, 2020
The government initially planned to end the vouchers over the summer period despite warnings that child hunger and unemployment. The poorest children in Wales and Scotland will resume receiving the vouchers in August but in England they were to be replaced by a 63 million council fund.
A Conservative cabinet minister praised Rashfords “interest” in child hunger in the UK as “great” while backing the previous policy of opposing the free meal voucher extension.
In an interview this morning, Grant Shapps agreed with Sky News host Kay Burley that the government’s decisions put to shame by footballer Marcus Rashford, who is campaigning to keep free school meals.
The Transport Secretary justified the government’s decision not to extend £15-a-week vouchers throughout the summer holidays claiming that it had “already” provided sufficient coverage with the £63m fund to local authorities.
“There’s been enormous assistance and quite rightly so”, he said.
“We’ve really wrapped our hands around, our arms around families and communities to try to do everything we can”.
He reiterated his position in a later interview on BBC Breakfast where he said that he had been reading Marcus Rashfords thread and it was “great” to see him get involved.
“I know he’s written to the PM who will doubtless write back to him as well”, the Transport Secretary said.
He explained that it is usually not the case that free school meals are provided over the school holidays.
“But we have actually unusually in this case, along with all the other billions, multi-billion pound package we’ve put in place to help families, also provided £63m exceptionally to help local authorities help children over this period”, he added.
Figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that benefits claimants have reached 2.8million last month, an increase of 126% or 1.6 million from March.
The United Kingdom is currently under lockdown as it combats the coronavirus pandemic. The government has introduced a furlough scheme, which is poised to end in August, to support those who are unable to work due to the closing of non-essential industry.