England

Rashford's free school meals victory 'chance to end holiday hunger'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionFootballer Marcus Rashford's mother struggled to put food on the table for her five children

After his victory on free school meals Marcus Rashford has called for more to be done for families who need them. With the nation's attention on holiday hunger, what do charities and head teachers want to happen now?

Downing Street has said all 1.3 million children eligible for free school meals in England would benefit from a "Covid summer food fund".

But food banks and charities say the government could go further by permanently funding meals outside of term time.

'Shouldn't just be for summer'

Image copyright LDRS
Image caption Richard Gilpin delivered lunches to families on his bike when schools closed

Before the government implemented a scheme to feed those on free meals, head teacher Richard Gilpin delivered food to families on his bike after schools closed to most pupils in March

The current scheme provides those eligible with a voucher worth about £15 a week per child.

Extending it over summer, as Rashford had called for, will cost £120m.

Mr Gilpin, from Pittville Secondary School in Cheltenham, said the decision was the right one but that it needed to last beyond the summer.

"If it's still the case at Christmas, great, but it can't just be a one-off," he said.

"This can't just be a reaction to a high-profile footballer for the summer."

More than a fifth of pupils at Pittville are on free school meals and Mr Gilpin said staff had set up their own food bank to help.

"The government has to acknowledge that families will struggle for a long time even after schools are open to everyone and families are back to work," he said.

"Young people are already suffering in terms of mental health and that's before we get to the problem families face in getting food on the table."

'Some vouchers didn't work'

Image copyright Neil Gingell
Image caption Neil Gingell has had problems with the voucher scheme

Neil Gingell, from Melksham in Wiltshire, said the decision was "great", but has found problems with the voucher scheme and hopes that will not affect people receiving them in the summer.

The 45-year-old, who cares for his partner and has three children, said: "We were a week behind with the food vouchers, then we had two lots, then some of the vouchers didn't work.

"If you're going to give out meals during the holiday, then you need to actually do it.

"We have family who are helping us out but there are people out there who have no help at all,"

'Extension hugely welcomed'

David Nightingale, head teacher of Moorfield Primary School in Irland, Salford, said without the announcement there would have been many families feeling "apprehensive" about the holidays.

He said he was working with staff living in the local community to make them a point of contact for parents regarding the vouchers over the summer break.

"We're in a situation where there are so many worries, to have this worry taken off the shoulders of parents and carers has been hugely welcomed," he said.

Mr Nightingale said he would also welcome the scheme being extended into the Christmas holidays, to provide a "safety net" for parents at a time where finances would be increasingly stretched.

Where is the need greatest?

In England about 1.3 million children - 15% of those in state education - were eligible for and claiming free school meals last year.

Parts of London, the north and Midlands had more than a quarter of children receiving the dinners during term time.

'Demand has sky-rocketed'

The coronavirus pandemic has hampered the ability of charities and community groups to help children.

They have not been able to run holiday clubs, where they would provide meals outside of term time.

Andrew Forsey, from the charity Feeding Britain, 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 raising money for this cause, but has led this successful effort to help the government dig itself out of a massive hole."

He said the government's intention to roll out a "programme of nutritious meals, accessible childcare and activities" in the summer holidays held the key to consigning 'holiday hunger' to the history books."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In England about 1.3 million children were eligible for and claiming free school meals last year

The Big Help Project, which runs a food bank and food club in Knowsley, Merseyside, has seen demand double since the lockdown started.

The area has one of the highest rates of children on free school meals, with more than a third in state education receiving them.

Assistant chief executive Sue Torpey said: "Demand has sky-rocketed. So this announcement is excellent but it needs to go beyond the summer.

"We've been running play schemes in the holidays for years to make sure children have meals outside of term time.

"These are community funded and it's never enough. The government could change this if it wanted to. The opportunity is there."

The Children's Society has called on the government to make the free school meal extension permanent.

Mark Russell, its chief executive, said: "Provision should be extended to more low income working families who unfairly miss out. This will provide a vital lifeline to all children."

Magic Breakfast, a charity which provides school breakfasts to children, said the job of solving "holiday hunger" was not done.

CEO Alex Cunningham said: "This is not a solution, if normality ever returns there will still be children at risk of hunger...our long term aim is that schools will have permanent funding for breakfast clubs."

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson said the government was proud to have introduced "universal free school meals" for children up to Year 2 regardless of need.

He said there were hundreds of thousands "fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010".

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites