Boris Johnson ‘congratulates’ Marcus Rashford after footballer forces U-turn on free school meal funding
Boris Johnson said he'd only become aware of the footballer's campaign "very recently" (PA)
Boris Johnson called Marcus Rashford to “congratulate” him on his campaign after the footballer forced the Government to u-turn on funding for free school meals.
It comes after the England football star penned an open letter to all MPs on Monday urging them to extend the programme over the summer holidays.
Downing Street initially rejected the call, but following pressure from Tories announced on Tuesday a new £120million scheme for all 1.3 million pupils in England currently eligible for free school meals.
Commenting on the call, Mr Johnson said he’d only become aware of the Manchester United striker’s campaign “very recently, today” - despite his official spokesperson claiming on Monday he would respond to his plea “as soon as he can”.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, the PM said: “I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign in which, to be honest, I only became aware of very recently, today.
"I thank him for what he’s done. I think he’s right to draw attention to this issue. Basically, we’ve got large numbers of kids who haven’t been able to get back into school.
“We’ve got a problem about getting kids back into school in the way that we would want for the reasons that people understand."
He continued: “But, I do think it’s right that we should be looking after the families of the vulnerable, the most vulnerable, the neediest right now and that’s why we’ve got the Covid Summer Food Plan, which we’ve announced today.
“And I hope it will make a big difference to those kids and to those families.”
The fund will hand parents vouchers worth £15 a week for the six weeks of the summer holidays, which they can redeem at supermarkets.
Meanwhile, a representative for the footballer said of the call: “Marcus thanked the Prime Minister for u-turning on a decision that could have been detrimental to the stability of families across the country."
The government strongly denied it had been forced into the policy change by the 22-year-old sportsman following Tuesday's announcement.
A spokesperson said: “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.”
But, speaking in the Commons, education secretary Gavin Williamson strongly suggested Mr Rashford's campaigning had been a factor in the decision.
He said: “While we are in extraordinary times we must not be bound by the constraints of what normally happens.
“A government should always listen to the people who need it most, and I'd like to extend my particular thanks to Marcus Rashford for using his public position to amplify the voices of those who must and should be heard by speaking out for the less fortunate.
He continued: “And in raising a phenomenal total of over £20million pounds in just a few days, he represents the best of Britain, and he's a role model for all those children who look up to him for inspiration.
“We should never be ashamed to listen.”