The Government has announced nearly £400m in new funding to support vulnerable children and families through the winter, meeting some of the demands from England footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child food poverty.
A “Covid Winter Grant Scheme” worth £170m will be distributed to local councils at the start of December to help struggling families with food and bills until the end of March, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
And up to £220m will also be added to the Holiday Activities and Food Programme for the rest of 2021, expanding the school holiday scheme to all local authorities. Healthy Start vouchers for vulnerable parents to spend on fruit and vegetables for their children will increase in value to at least £4.25 per week and £16m will go to “food distribution charities”, the DWP added.
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Announcing the measures, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”
Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Task Force had been campaigning since September for the Government to provide children on free school meals with food and activities over school holidays and to increase Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25, based on recommendations from the National Food Strategy. Both asks have been met, albeit temporarily, by today’s announcement.
But at the core of his campaign was a demand for free school meals to be given to any child in a family which receives Universal Credit, a crucial support mechanism for some of the most desperate children which has been left out of the newly announced measures.
Rashford said he had “a good conversation” with Prime Minister Boris Johnson “to better understand the plan” after the 23-year-old’s Manchester United side beat Everton 3-1 on Saturday.
While he welcomed the announcement, Rashford, who received an MBE after forcing a government U-turn over free school meals in the summer, said his “immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough.”
Children in families on Universal Credit are not allowed free school meals if their household income is more than £7,400 per year.
Just had a great conversation with the Prime Minister, now is the time for collaboration 🇬🇧
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) November 7, 2020
Over 1,000 businesses and organisations across the country stepped in to fill the void, preparing meals for children and families to collect from their premises in a week of community action.
Rashford continued: “Seeing the role everyone has played in supporting our most vulnerable children has been the greatest moment of my life. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding.
“I am fully committed to this cause, and I will fight for the rest of my life for it, because in my mind, no child should ever go hungry in the United Kingdom. I don’t want any child to go through what I went through, and any parent to experience what my mother experienced.”
The new lockdown measures in England have seen Chancellor Rishi Sunak once more dig deep into the nation’s coffers to support those who are struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The furlough scheme and mortgage payment holidays have both been extended until March 2021 and on Thursday Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced £15m to support rough sleepers for a month over December.
Coffey said: “We know this has been a challenging time for many and we have consistently supported the lowest-paid families, protecting 9 million jobs with furlough and boosting welfare support by £9.3 billion.
“This package builds on that support and by extending our successful Holiday Activities and Food programme as well as funding a £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme we are making sure families get the help they need.”
Rashford added: “Today, I’m overwhelmed with pride that we have made such significant progress… I’m going to bed thankful tonight but under no illusion that there is still a lot more work to be done.”
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