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Boris Johnson congratulates Marcus Rashford after meals campaign U-turn

Downing Street has announced a one-off £120 million fund which will benefit some 1.3 million children in England over the six-week holidays.

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File photo dated 22-12-2019 of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.

File photo dated 22-12-2019 of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.

File photo dated 22-12-2019 of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.

The Prime Minister has personally congratulated England footballer Marcus Rashford for his successful free summer school meals campaign.

In a U-turn after a personal and high-profile campaign by the Manchester United forward, the Government has announced a one-off £120 million fund which will benefit some 1.3 million children in England over the six-week summer period.

Boris Johnson, who said he had spoken to the footballer, told the daily Downing Street press conference: “I think it is the right thing
to do and I do congratulate Marcus Rashford on his campaign.”

Mr Johnson said he had only found out about the footballer’s campaign on Tuesday but 24-hours earlier his official spokesman had said he was set to respond to Mr Rashford’s concerns “as soon as he can”.

Mr Johnson said: “We set out a voucher scheme for the first couple of holidays.

“Clearly free school meals should generally apply in term time, that’s what they are there for.

“But we have to understand the pressures families are under right now and that’s why we’ve responded as we have.

“As I say, I think it is the right thing to do and it will help the kids from the families who really need it.”

Mr Rashford had written an open letter this week asking the Government to reverse its decision not to award free school meals vouchers to vulnerable children outside of term time.

After hearing of the U-turn, Mr Rashford, 22, said he was “proud” that the voices of “vulnerable parents” all over the country had been listened to.

In a statement on social media, he said: “There is still a long way to go but I am thankful to you all that we have given these families just one less thing to worry about tonight.”

Footballers including former England captain Gary Lineker, politicians, charity and education leaders have praised his successful campaign to make the Government reverse its decision not to award free school meals vouchers in the summer.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman had said on Monday that Mr Johnson would respond to the footballer’s letter “as soon as he can”, and praised him for “using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues”.

A Department for Education spokesman later said the national voucher scheme was not being extended.

But on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government would provide a Covid Summer Food Fund to reflect the fact families face an “unprecedented situation” over the holidays.

It is understood payment will be through a one-off six-week voucher given to eligible families at the end of term to use in supermarkets.

The scheme will not continue beyond this summer, Downing Street said.

The vouchers will amount to £15 a week per child and some 1.3 million children in England will be eligible, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also praised Mr Rashford and said the Government “should always listen to the people who need it most”.

“By speaking out for the less fortunate, and in raising the phenomenal total of over £20 million in just a few days, he represents the best of Britain and is a role model for all of those children who look up to him for inspiration,” he told the Commons.

Andrew Forsey, chief executive of Feeding Britain, a charity which operates holiday hunger schemes, said: “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Marcus Rashford, a man who has done incredibly well for himself, but hasn’t forgotten his roots, who is not only donating his own money to this cause, but has led this successful effort to help the Government dig itself out of a massive hole.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “This is another welcome U-turn from Boris Johnson. The thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable.

“Well done to Marcus Rashford and many others who spoke out so powerfully about this issue.”

PA