Boris Johnson U-turns over free school meals with £120m summer scheme after pressure from Marcus Rashford
The PM made the announcement after pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford (PA)
Boris Johnson has announced a new £120million fund to feed the poorest children over the summer holidays after a campaign led by England footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Prime Minister was forced into the move amid mounting pressure from his own party following an open letter from the Manchester United striker.
The 22-year-old star, who himself received free school meals, called on the scheme to be continued over the holidays to prevent more than a million kids in England from going hungry due to the pandemic.
Initially the Government had rejected the call, pointing to an additional £63million in funding handed to local authorities to benefit families struggling to afford food and essentials as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
But on Tuesday the PM’s official spokesman announced a new £15-per-week voucher scheme for all the 1.3 million pupils currently eligible for Free School Meals.
He said: "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 proving a Covid Summer Food Fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period.”
He added: “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. As the PM has said it’s our intention to get all pupils back into school in September.”
In response to the news Mr Rashford tweeted: “I don’t even know what to say.
"Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
The Covid Summer Food Fund will provide payment through vouchers given to parents at the end of term which can be used in supermarkets, as the existing meal system during lockdown has worked.
Number 10 confirmed it was "additional funding agreed by the Treasury", and goes beyond the crisis grant fund of £63million given to councils.
But they denied the Government had been forced into it by Mr Rashford, who also criticised Cabinet minister Therese Coffey for her response to his pleas.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “I said yesterday the PM would be responding and that is what we've done.”
Pressed on the influence of the footballer, who has won praise for using his platform to raise the issue, he added: “The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues.”
Reacting to the news 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 Marcus Rashford and many others who spoke out so powerfully about this issue.”