Marcus Rashford starts petition to give more children free school meals
Written by on 15 October 2020
Footballer Marcus Rashford has launched a government petition calling for more children to get free school meals after successfully lobbying ministers earlier this year.
The Manchester United star, 22, wants to extend free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent benefit, which he claims will reach 1.5 million seven to 16-year-olds who are currently missing out.
He is also calling for Healthy Start vouchers, which offer free milk and produce to pregnant mothers and families with young children, to increase from GBP3.10 a week to GBP4.25.
Thirdly he wants to make sure all families with children on free school meals get support with food and activities for them during the holidays.
Marcus Rashford praises Wales as GBP11m set aside to give free meals to kids
The Welsh government makes GBP11m available to fund the move in the hope it provides “reassurance in these times of uncertainty”
Ministers had planned to stop the GBP15-a-week scheme set up while schools were shut during lockdown to pay for the meals of children who are usually fed for free at school.
But after the star wrote to the government explaining how similar schemes helped him, it reversed its decision.
Currently families on Universal Credit can only get free school meals for their children if their income is less than GBP7,400 a year.
Healthy Start vouchers are only available for pregnant mothers – and families with children older than one but younger than four. Families on Universal Credit can only qualify if they earn less than GBP408 a week.
Rashford’s campaign earlier this year saw him form the Child Food Poverty Task Force, which brought together 20 charities.
Research from one of them – the Food Foundation – found that 18% of eight to 17-year-olds in the UK – 1.4 million children – were worried about food during the summer holidays.
Six per cent of that age group said they ate less or tried to make food last for longer because of money problems.
Rashford said: “For too long this conversation has been delayed. Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of COVID-19.
“In 2020, no child should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day, or how they are going to access food come the holidays.
“Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children.”
Actress Emma Thompson, who is an ambassador for the Children’s Right2Food Campaign, added: “In the sixth richest economy in the world these figures speak for themselves.
“There is absolutely no need for any child to go hungry in the UK. The fact that they are and in increasing numbers suggests cracks in a broken food system that can and must be repaired as a matter of the utmost urgency.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have taken substantial action to make sure children and families do not go hungry by extending free school meals when schools closed, increasing welfare support by GBP9.3bn, and giving councils GBP63 million to provide emergency support to families for food and other essentials.
“We also appreciate it has been a challenging time for families, which is why we have increased the safety net available to them with income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and support for renters.
“We are grateful to Marcus Rashford for his work shining a light on the significant challenges families are facing at this time.”