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Marcus Rashford to fight on after new school meals plea rejected

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Footballer Marcus Rashford is pledging to continue his campaign to see free school meals given to children during all school holidays in England, after the government rejected the idea.

The Manchester United and England forward says his call - part of an effort to end child food poverty - is "not going to go away anytime soon".

Rashford prompted a government U-turn over free meals in the summer holidays.

No 10 says it has "taken action to make sure children don't go hungry".

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However, Rashford responded in a tweet by saying it was "not for food banks to feed millions of British children," adding: "This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I..."

It comes as a petition set up by the footballer urging the government to go further in tackling child hunger hit more than 140,000 signatures hours after it was launched.

During the coronavirus lockdown the government was providing vouchers to families whose children qualify for free meals.

It had insisted this would not continue outside of term time but changed its mind after Rashford's campaign in the summer.

'Different position now'

Rashford, 22, has told of his own impoverished childhood and formed a coalition of food campaigners.

His new petition calls for free school meals to be available for every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent.

This would mean the meals reach an additional 1.5 million children aged seven to 16, his campaign said.

He also wants holiday meals and activities to be expanded to an extra 1.1 million, and the value of healthy food vouchers for pregnant women to be increased to £4.25 per week (up from £3.10).

But asked about the campaign on Thursday, a Downing Street spokesman indicated ministers would not provide free school meals to children in the Christmas break, saying: "It's not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays."

The spokesman added: "We took that decision to extend free school meals during the pandemic when schools were partially closed during lockdown. We're in a different position now with schools back open to all pupils.

"We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through Universal Credit rather than government subsidising meals."

Earlier, the government cited its extension of welfare support by £9.3bn, funding councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals.

Senior Tory MP Rob Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said on Twitter the government response was "very disappointing... We need a long-term plan to combat child food hunger, especially given 32% of families have had a drop in income since March."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "We are not in normal times. Normal solutions like Universal Credit may not be enough.

"Without doubt, the disruption to people's livelihoods as a result of Covid will mean that even more children are plunged into poverty."

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