Marcus Rashford Has Denied Being Contacted By Boris Johnson After The Latest School Meals Row
Marcus Rashford has dismissed claims he has been in contact with Boris Johnson since he renewed his campaign for free school meals
The footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford has dismissed suggestions that Boris Johnson has contacted him following rising tensions over government's refusal to fund free school meals.
It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the government did not need to provide free school meal vouchers to children outside of term times because local authorities had been given extra cash to support disadvantaged families through the coronavirus crisis.
Downing Street have come under increasing pressure over the weekend to u-turn on their opposition to the proposals after a number of senior Conservative backbenchers said ministers would have to "think again" about the policy.
On Sunday, senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said: "We have to admit we've misunerstood the mood of the country here... the public want to see the government taking a national lead on this , and I think the government will probably have to think again on that."
But despite the pressure, Mr Hancock said ministers had provided a "huge amount" of new cash for councils and said they were better placed to provide support for children during the holidays.
"I also think that it's brilliant that the councils are coming forward, having been funded by central government – £63m has gone to councils so that they can do exactly what you say, so that they can support people and make sure that everybody and every child gets the support that they need.”
And he praised Marcus Rashford for his "very eloquent" campaign, saying he agreed "very strongly with the purpose" of supporting disadvantaged children.
"I think we’re all inspired by the way he’s led that campaign. And the purpose is that no child should go hungry, and that’s right," he said.
Asked whether there had been contact between the Prime Minister and the footballer, Mr Hancock added: "There has been communication between the two as far as I can understand it.
"We have all seen what Marcus Rashford has done, and the way he has conducted himself in this campaign he is running I think has been absolutely exemplary.
He added: "I understand that there has been communication, but I am obviously not in charge of the Prime Minister's correspondence. If there hasn't been then I am sure there will be and that will be followed up."
But taking to Twitter, Mr Rashford dismissed the claims, saying the only contact he had recieved from No10 had been to congratulate him for forcing the government to change their stance over the issue in June.
He tweeted: "Hmm, unless he’s referring to the call we had following the u-turn in June?..."
Speaking later, Mr Johnson confirmed that he had not spoken to the football ace since June, but said he thought his campaign had been "terrific".
"I haven't spoken to Marcus since June, but as I say, I think what he is doing is terrific, and we support the local councils and indeed we fund the local councils and many of the organisations that are helping in this period," he said.
Despite pressure from his own backbenchers to u-turn on the decision, Mr Johnson he was "very proud" of the support package offered to families and insisted children would not go hungry because of government "inattention".
"We are also uplifting universal credit by £1000 and we think that is one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time," he added.
"I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there. We have to deal with it. The debate is how do you deal with it?
"We are very proud of the support we have given. I have said repeatedly throughout this crisis that the government will support families, businesses, jobs and livelihoods across the country. We are going to do that.
"I am going to repeat my single point, my most important point. We don't want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas. Certainly not as a result of any inattention by this government. You are not going to see that."
But in a further blow to the approach, children's commissioner Anne Longfield said plans to provide the funding through councils would result in cash being "tied up then in process, in distribution, in bureaucracies".
She added: "There'll be children who are desperate for that help and that's something that really makes this a very urgent priority for Boris Johnson when he gets to his desk today."