Marcus Rashford: Communities back school meals campaign

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Image source, The School Food Plan
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One council leader described some MPs as "callously indifferent" to the plight of children

Communities across the country are stepping up to the plate to provide free school meals to children after a campaign by Marcus Rashford.

It comes after a motion to extend free school meals over holidays during the Covid-19 pandemic was rejected by MPs.

The Manchester United striker had called on people to "unite" to protect the most vulnerable children.

Fish and chip shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes are among the hospitality venues to offer free meals.

A growing number of councils across England have also pledged to provide food vouchers over half term.

Labour-led authorities in Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Hammersmith & Fulham and Doncaster are among those agreeing to fund their own schemes.

Media caption,
Marcus Rashford and his mother Melanie helped out at FareShare Greater Manchester

The government said all measures would be kept under review after a Labour motion in the Commons to extend the scheme over holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated.

Hammersmith & Fulham Council leader Stephen Cowan said watching the vote was "cutting".

He said: "I have seen a lot of kids who need food. I was in a school on Tuesday speaking to kids who have the free lunches now and they were explaining they have gone for days without a proper meal.

"They were very sweet kids, and then I looked at the MPs who were so callously indifferent to that and I thought, 'how can that be happening in the fifth richest country on Earth?'

"There are so many things they spend money on, it's a moral imperative."

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said the decision would feed about 19,800 children in the city, while Doncaster's mayor Ros Jones said it was "the right thing to do".

Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in England, described the government policy on the issue as "chaotic" and "unsustainable".

Government ministers have praised Mr Rashford for highlighting the difficulties facing low-income families, but some Conservative MPs have accused him of "virtue signalling".

More than 200 children's writers are among those urging the government to ensure no child goes hungry this winter.

Other councils who have offered their own meal schemes include York, Wolverhampton, Oldham, Southwark, Redbridge, Lambeth, North Tyneside, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Telford & Wrekin.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Marcus Rashford has urged people to "unite" to protect the most vulnerable children

Other areas that will provide support include Reading, Middlesbrough, Medway, Kirklees, Brighton, Sefton, Knowsley, Lewisham, Halton and Portsmouth.

Treasury minister Steve Barclay told BBC Radio 4's Today earlier there was an extra £9bn in support available through the welfare system.

"It's important we support families in need," he said.

"In the design and the measures we've taken, for example on housing support, lifting the allowance at the lowest in terms of rents to cover a much wider range of housing benefits, that again is about supporting families through the welfare system."

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