Food poverty charities welcome government’s free school meals u-turn

Food poverty charities have welcomed a u-turn by the government on its controversial decision not to back their campaign, fronted by Marcus Rashford, to fund free school meals for disadvantaged children out of term time.

The government had voted against the move earlier this month. But following continued campaigning by England and Manchester United striker Rashford and charities, including FareShare and Feeding Britain, the government has backtracked.

For Christmas and Easter next year welfare assistance grants will be made to councils to give out to eligible families. In addition, from Easter £220m will be allocated to the Holiday Activity and Food Programme for all councils. The value of the Healthy Start voucher will be increased from £3.10 to £4.25 from April next year.

“We welcome the government’s announcement of more support through the continuing Covid-19 pandemic for vulnerable children and families in the UK,” said FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell.

“Making sure children don’t go hungry during the holidays or when schools are closed, is something FareShare and our Ambassador Marcus Rashford have been campaigning on for some time. So the extra funding for local authorities is welcome news.

“But the reality is that many families and individuals inevitably fall through cracks in the system. And FareShare’s work to provide over two million meals for vulnerable people each week will go on.”

Meanwhile, Feed Britain also welcomed the government u-turn and praised the campaigning by Rashford to raise awareness of the plight of disadvantaged families during school holidays.

It is particularly pleased with the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme which represents “a major breakthrough for poorer children’s life chances

Marcus Rashford has also welcomed the rethink by the government, which he learned about following a conversation with Prime Minister Boris Johnson following Manchester United’s Premier League match this weekend.

“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 U,” said Rashford.

He added: “I want to take this moment to reflect on what has occurred over the last couple of weeks. I am so proud of ‘us’ as a collective. ‘Us’ being the local businesses, charity workers, volunteers, teachers, social workers, carers, and key workers.

“Together we have demonstrated the power of kindness and compassion. We have shown that when it comes down to the wire, we will always have each other. Seeing the role everyone has played in supporting our most vulnerable children has been the greatest moment of my life.

Last month Feeding Britain restructured to remove MPs from its board of trustees. The move was taken after one of its trustees, Conservative MP Jo Gideon voted against the motion to extend free school meal support out of term time. The motion, put forward by the Labour Party, had been defeated by 321 to 261.

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