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Downing Street Has Refused To Praise Businesses Offering Free Food To Children After Marcus Rashford’s Anti-Hunger Campaign

Hundreds of businesses, councils and community groups have stepped in to support Marcus Rashford's campaign (PA)

3 min read

Downing Street has refused to praise businesses and local councils who are offering to provide free food for children during next week’s school half-term.

Hundreds of cafes, restaurants and community groups have responded to footballer Marcus Rashford’s anti-hunger campaign after the government ruled out extending the free school meal system into the holidays.

But despite growing pressure from across the political spectrum and beyond, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said there was "no change" to the current position.

Starting last night the England and Manchester United striker Rashford began sharing posts from up and down the country of those willing to step in and offer food to kids next week.

Off the back of it a number of local authorities, including Liverpool and several London boroughs, have said they will pay to extend the free school meals programme too.

The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said he was "not prepared to stand by and watch" as he announced he would spend £300,000 despite a council budget crisis to support 20,000 children in the city.

Asked if this was a move the PM would welcome, his spokesperson told reporters: “So we've set out our position a number of times and there's no change.

“As we’ve set out before we’re in a different position now with schools back open to all and the vast majority of pupils back in school.”

Earlier in the year Rashford, who has been a tireless campaigner on this issue, persuaded Mr Johnson to implement a voucher scheme through the summer so less well-off parents could purchase food for their children.

But since then Downing Street has been clear they do not believe it should be extended outside of term time, instead pointing to other methods of support provided by the state.

Asked if the PM would “applaud local councils” who have chosen to step in, the spokesperson replied: “Whilst schools continue to play an integral role in the community it’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during school holidays.”

They added: “As we’ve said before, we’re in a different position now with schools back open.

“But we have done a lot to make sure the most vulnerable in our society are protected’ and that has included extending free school meals to support those eligible when schools were partially closed during lockdown, increasing universal credit by £20-a-week, and giving £63million extra funding for councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals.”

Pressed a third time on whether the PM would praise those offering meals, the spokesperson replied: “You've had my answer, we've been clear of our position.”

Earlier this week Labour put forward a motion in the Commons pushing the government to provide free school meals out of term time, but it was defeated by 322 votes 261.

Five Conservative MPs broke ranks to side with the opposition, including Caroline Ansell, who later resigned her government role in protest at her party's position.

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