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Thu, 2 July 2020

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Keir Starmer backs Marcus Rashford's plea for U-turn on free school meals

Keir Starmer backs Marcus Rashford's plea for U-turn on free school meals

Marcus Rashford has urged the Government to extend its free school meals programme (PA)

4 min read

Keir Starmer has thrown his weight behind Marcus Rashford's plea for ministers to reverse plans to scrap free schools meals during the summer holidays.

It comes after the England ace wrote to MPs urging them to extend the scheme into the summer holidays as he warned families were "living on a knife's edge" during the pandemic.

Over a million children are currently eligible for the scheme, but ministers announced earlier this month it would not be extended, instead providing local authorities with a £63m to help provide food and support for those in need.

But the 22-year-old Manchester United striker, who has already helped raise over £20m for charity FareShare during the pandemic, said in the letter that he may have not made it as a footballer without free school meals, urging ministers to "make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority".

"My story to get here is all-too-familiar for families in England: my mum worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table," he wrote.

"But it was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.

"As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year."

He added: "The government has taken a “whatever it takes” approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.

"I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.

"This is England in 2020, and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance. Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the u-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority."

And his campaign has gained support from many opposition MPs, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who described the letter as "important and moving".

"Marcus Rashford is right, we cannot let 1.3 million children go hungry this summer", he added.

"Thank you, Marcus, for all the work you are doing to support children during the coronavirus crisis."

Meanwhile, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the U-turn was "desperately needed to help families facing a really though summer".

Responding to the campaign, a Number 10 spokesperson said Boris Johnson would write back "as soon as he can", adding Mr Rashford was "using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues".

But the spokesperson failed to say whether ministers were considering reversing the decision, instead pointing to the new emergency funding for councils.

"The PM understands the issue facing families across the UK which is why last week the Government announced an additional £63m for local authorities to benefit all families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials," they said.

"The PM also set out as schools open more widely and their kitchens reopen we expect them to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not able to return to schools.

"Where that is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils. As of 3 June £129m has been redeemed by families and schools."

They added: "As I said when we talked about this last week, the funding will go to local authorities in order for them to target the support at those who need it most.

"The local authorities have existing mechanisms for providing support in a way that suits local needs so they have exiting ways of making sure that those who need support do get it and that could include cash payments, food vouchers or alternative times of support."

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