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Marcus Rashford launches new campaign to end child food poverty

The England footballer is calling on the public to back his campaign to end child poverty and expand the government's free school meal programme – but the Prime Minister has already rejected the call

Marcus Rashford has launched a new parliamentary petition urging the government to end child food poverty and extend free school meals to an additional 1.5 million children. 

The England footballer called on ministers to “protect our young” and provide meals to every child from households receiving Universal Credit as part of his #endchildfoodpoverty campaign. 

“In 2020, no child in the UK should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day,” Rashford said. 

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But within hours the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted there would be no repeat of the u-turn earlier in the year, when Rashford successfully lobbied Westminster to provide food vouchers for children through the summer holidays.

The spokesman said: “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.

“It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays. We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through Universal Credit rather than government subsidising meals.”

Rashford, 22, also called for extra funding to support summer holiday activities for 1.1 million children and an increase in the value of Healthy Start food vouchers from £4.25 to £3.10 per week. 

The three recommendations stem from the government commissioned National Food Strategy, and the petition rocketed to over 45,000 signatures within hours of going live.

Rashford was awarded an MBE for his work aiming to end child food poverty, and said the Covid-19 pandemic had already “penalised” a generation of children with a lack of access to educational resources. 

He added: “The school holidays used to be a highlight of the year for children. Today, it is met with anxiety from those as young as seven years old. 

“Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs.”

The #endchildfoodpoverty campaign is supported by the Child Food Poverty Task Force, formed by Rashford and key names in the food industry.  

According to the Food Foundation, 1.4 million children reported experiences of food insecurity over the holidays, with 6.3 per cent of children worried about going hungry during the October half term.

The new campaign comes amid worries over the quality of free school meals during the pandemic. 

England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said she had been “hearing concerns about the quality” of dinners.

“The Covid safety restrictions in schools have meant many are no longer providing hot school dinners,” she said, responding to a bill by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck on child hunger which passed it’s first reading this week.

“For those children for whom a school dinner can be the only hot meal of the day, this is a real blow.” 

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of Food Foundation said: “School holidays are a financial pressure point which many families just can’t afford at the moment. 

“Hunger does not take a holiday. The government needs to put in place a permanent solution to school holiday hunger and implement the recommendations in the National Food Strategy.”