Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has thanked MPs for giving families “one less thing to worry about” after the Government announced it would provide free school meals over the summer.
In a 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 summer period following the footballer’s campaign.
Following the news, the Manchester United and England star said he was “proud” that the voices of “vulnerable parents” all over the country had been listened to.
In a statement on social media, the 22-year-old 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, politicians, charity and education leaders have praised the striker’s successful campaign to make the Government reverse its decision not to award free school meals vouchers in the summer.
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.
Referring to Mr Rashford, he said: “The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues.”
The move came after Mr Rashford wrote 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.
During a daily Government briefing in April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called on Premier League footballers to “play their part in the national effort” in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Rashford, who has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has garnered significant media interest with his campaign.
The footballer followed up his open letter with an impassioned article in The Times on Tuesday, detailing his experience of growing up using food banks and receiving free meals as a child.
The headteacher of Mr Rashford’s former primary school has spoken of the community’s pride as he persuaded the Government to extend a “lifeline” free school meal service.
Emma Roberts said he was already a “hero” to children at Button Lane Primary School in Wythenshawe, which has twice the national average number of pupils eligible for the free school meals.
This is another welcome u-turn from Boris Johnson.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) June 16, 2020
The thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable.
Well done to @MarcusRashford and many others who spoke out so powerfully about this issue. #HolidaysWithoutHunger
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.”
The cost of the scheme will come to £120 million in additional funding, Downing Street has said.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This is a unique and hugely challenging period, which we know will have a profound impact on people’s lives.
“We are listening to those who need the most help, and taking unprecedented action to make sure no child goes hungry during this period.”