Devon cafe offers free child lunch amid school meals row

Image caption,
Chris Fletcher is offering free meals in the holidays to children from low-income families.

A cafe is offering free children's lunches throughout half-term after the government rejected calls to extend a voucher scheme for children to receive free school meals.

The Gingerbread House in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, said it did not "believe any child should be hungry".

MPs turned down the idea after a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

The government said it was helping low-income families through the welfare system.

The Labour motion - which called for free school meals to be offered over the school holidays until Easter 2021 - was rejected by 322 votes to 261.

Co-owner of The Gingerbread House, Chris Fletcher said he "couldn't believe it had been voted against".

"There's children starving in this country and if we can do a little bit to help that's absolutely great," he said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Manchester United player Marcus Rashford forced the government to make a U-turn on the issue in the summer

He added that being a parent made him and his partner want to help.

"What we would like to offer is a free child's takeaway lunch which will include a sandwich, a packet of crisps, a piece of fruit and a juice throughout half-term," he said.

"All you have to do is bring in the confirmation showing your free school meal entitlement.

"Even if it makes a small difference to a few people in East Devon then hopefully a few more places do the same thing as us and keep going."

In England, about 1.3 million children claimed for free school meals in 2019 - about 15% of state-educated pupils.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not change his policy on free school meals, arguing that poor families were supported by the benefits system.

Earlier this year, a campaign by Mr Rashford pushed the government into a dramatic U-turn when it agreed to extend free school meals over the summer holidays.