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Marcus Rashford Says He's "Overwhelmed" After Boris Johnson Was Forced To U-Turn On Free School Meals

The anti-povery campaigner has forced ministers into a further u-turn on free school meals

3 min read

Footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford said he was "overwhelmed" after the government were forced into a U-turn on free school meals.

Ministers have announced a new £396m fund to support disadvantaged children and their families during the winter break following a campaign led by the Manchester United star.

It comes after MPs voted down a Labour bid to extend free school meals month, with Mr Johnson promising no child would go hungry during the winter holidays.

The Prime Minister had argued that an uplift in Universal Credit payments alongside further funding to local authorities to support poorer families would be enough to meet needs.

But in a phonecall on Saturday afternoon, Mr Johnson informed the footballer he had u-turned on the decision following his campaigning which saw more than a million people signing a petition calling on the government to change tack.

"Following the game today, I had a good conversation with the Prime Minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK," Mr Rashford said in a statement.

"There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Health Start vouchers because their family income isn't quite low enough, but intent the government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.

"The steps made today will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 months, and that can only be celebrated.

Around £170m from the fund will go to the COVID Winter Grant Scheme which will provide meals to children eligible for free school meals, meanwhile further funds will go to boost Health Start payments, which provide cash to expectant mothers and those on low incomes to buy fresh food and vegetables for their children.

Announcing the plans, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, said: "We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter."

Rashford said he was "so proud" of those who had united behind his campaign and that he was "overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding", promising his supporters to "fight for the rest of my life" to end child hunger in the UK.

Responding to the announcement, Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green slammed the government for "incompetence and intransigence" for the delay, saying it had created "needless and avoidable hardship for families across the country".

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