Marcus Rashford school meals petition passes 1m signatures

Image source, Reuters

More than a million people have signed Marcus Rashford's petition calling for children from poor families in England to get free meals in school holidays.

The Manchester United and England forward wants the government to provide free lunches amid fears for incomes as coronavirus restrictions increase.

His Parliamentary petition says that "no child should be going hungry".

The government says it has already introduced more effective measures to support families.

It has ruled out extending free meals across England beyond term time - as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have done - saying it has given councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions, as well as increasing welfare support by £9.3bn.

Last week, MPs rejected Labour's motion to extend the provision of free school meals, with five Conservative MPs rebelling.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Some businesses are giving out free food to underprivileged children during half-term

Since then, some Conservative and Labour councils have agreed to supply meal vouchers for pupils during half-term.

Some have said they will fund this using cash from the £63m government hardship fund, others from within existing budgets.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes have also been among those to support the initiative.

If Parliamentary petitions get more than 100,000 signatures, the subject is considered for a House of Commons debate.

Rashford's petition calls for the government to implement three recommendations made by a government-commissioned review on food published in July last year:

  • Expand free school meals to an additional 1.5m children, by including all households receiving universal credit or equivalent
  • Make an extra 1.1m children eligible for holiday activity and food programmes
  • More generous meal vouchers for pregnant women and parents of young children

'Targeted payments'

Meanwhile, a separate petition on campaigning website 38 Degrees calling for MPs to lose their ability to claim for food on expenses has nearly reached a million signatures.

MPs can claim up to £25 for food and non-alcoholic drink for each night spent outside London or their constituency as part of their work.

The petition also calls for MPs to be charged "market rates" for food they consume at parliamentary catering outlets, which are run at a loss.

It was announced on Wednesday that Mr Rashford will receive the City of Manchester Award in honour of his campaigning.

The 22-year-old has already been made an MBE for his work on child poverty.

The UK government extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays this year and, after a campaign by Mr Rashford, repeated this during the summer break.

But, with England's schools having reopened fully in September, cabinet minister Brandon Lewis told the BBC at the weekend that it was now up to councils to use the welfare system so that money is "targeted where it's needed most".