Gary Lineker, the Labour Party and other prominent figures have joined footballer Marcus Rashford in calls for the Government to extend its free school meal voucher scheme through the summer holidays.
The Manchester United and England star penned an open letter this week asking the Government to reverse its decision to cease the scheme – for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible – outside of school term time.
The 22-year-old has followed up with a column in The Times newspaper on Tuesday, addressing the meal voucher issue and the broader subject of childhood poverty.
“I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education,” Mr Rashford wrote.
“I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because ten years ago I was one of them.”
While a Department for Education spokesman has said the national voucher scheme “will not run during the summer holidays”, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman says the Prime Minister will respond to Mr Rashford’s letter “as soon as he can”.
The campaign received a further push on Monday night when Mr Lineker told BBC Newsnight he urged the Government to consider the struggles of impoverished families during the coronavirus crisis.
“Obviously these are strange times. Kids wouldn’t ordinarily be fed during the summer holidays, I understand that. But you’ve got to look at it and go ‘These are very, very difficult times for a lot of people and a lot of families’,” the former England striker and Match of the Day presenter said.
“There are a lot of young people, young children, in this country that are going hungry. And in a country like ours, a country of quite substantial wealth, that seems to be largely unacceptable.
“Hopefully the powers that be will listen. It seems strange that we have to be in a position where we are desperately arguing to try to get young people fed, and stop them being hungry.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party say they will today use an opposition day debate in Parliament to call on the Government to continue to directly fund the provision of free school meals over the holidays.
Labour launched a Holidays Without Hunger campaign on Sunday.
Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long Bailey will say: “Any government that is willing to let the poorest children in the country go hungry needs to take a long hard look at its priorities.
“Shamefully, children go hungry every year, but this summer will be especially difficult for many families as job losses and reduced incomes hit household budgets.
“It would be deeply callous of the government not to take this small step to ease the financial pressure on households and ensure children can eat during the summer holidays.”
There are 2 postcodes in the Bolton South East contingency that have the level of child poverty at over 50% according to Child Poverty Action Group. 50% !! #maketheuturn— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 15, 2020
Former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw added his name to the cause, saying the Government “should be bending on this one” and that Mr Rashford was “absolutely right to draw attention to this”.
“I know lots of head teachers who are so worried about their children who are on free school meals, their poorest children, who have lost out the most during this crisis,” Sir Michael told Newsnight.
“Those head teachers are going to bringing those children in over the summer break, they’re going to be inviting their staff into school over the summer break to teach them, to make sure they don’t lose out any more.
“Now if they’re going to be doing that, and those children are going to be coming into school over the summer break, to catch up, they need food.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, the country’s biggest teachers’ union, said the union “fully supports” Mr Rashford’s demand to provide free school meals over the summer.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If the Government is genuinely committed to social equity, it must extend the provision of free school meals to continue during the summer holidays.”
Mr Rashford, who has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has said he used food banks and received free meals during his underprivileged childhood in Manchester.
Mr Lineker also praised Mr Rashford, saying: “When you look at it, though, he’s a 22 year old footballer. He shouldn’t be the one having to do this. But the fact that he is, is important. It’s impressive. He’s a very fine young man, and he’s a credit to his sport and his family.”
The voucher scheme provides £15 worth of vouchers a week for each eligible child, which can be redeemed in a range of supermarkets.
The Welsh Government has said free school meals will continue in Wales through the summer.
The Department for Education spokesman also said thousands of children would also receive “additional support through our Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals throughout the summer holidays”.