Marcus Rashford warned MPs not to “turn a blind eye” to vulnerable families as the House of Commons prepared to vote on a Labour call to extend free school meals over the holidays.
The 22-year-old – who was recently awarded an MBE for his work in tackling child poverty – has proposed extending the free school meals provision for those on Universal Credit or equivalent into half-terms and the Christmas holidays.
That move was rejected by the Government but the Labour Party has called on Conservative MPs to defy No 10 and back the proposals, which could see an additional 1.5 million children aged between seven and 16 receive extra support out of term time.
Paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of our most vulnerable children, 2.2M of them who currently qualify for Free School Meals. 42% newly registered. Not to mention the 1.5M children who currently don’t qualify.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 21, 2020
Rashford has said he would be “paying close attention” to the vote and urged his 3.4m Twitter followers to lobby MPs to back his campaign.
He said: “Paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of our most vulnerable children, 2.2 million of them who currently qualify for free school meals.”
Rashford said the economic hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had made the situation worse than it was at the start of the crisis.
“We aren’t in the same position we were in in the summer, it’s much worse,” he added.
“The number of children with little to no access to food has risen significantly.”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, urged the Government to continue providing meals over the holidays while the coronavirus crisis is ongoing and called on ministers to work with Rashford.
In the Commons, however, Boris Johnson continued to resist calls for extra support and insisted benefits support remained the best way to assist those in need.
“We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so,” he told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school.
“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”
Rashford launched an online petition last week urging the government to make three commitments to support vulnerable children as part of the #endchildfoodpoverty campaign.
The campaign is supported by the Child Food Poverty Task Force, which was formed by Rashford, as well as a further 20 charities and key names in the food industry.
He forced a Government U-turn in July when he won his battle to ensure the provision of free meals during the school summer holidays and he will be hoping for a similar outcome this time.
Rashford, who grew up in one of the poorest areas of Manchester, knows only too well the effects that food poverty can have.
“You don’t know the extent as to how it’s affecting people if you’ve not been through it,” he told Sky Sports News in an exclusive interview in June.
“I’ve seen first hand how it can spiral out of control. People can end up on the streets by not having meals for days.
“It wasn’t just the food situation I was thinking about when I was raising the awareness, but mental health – the general well-being of people and families.
“It might not seem like a big thing but not eating the right amount of meals every day can have a real impact on your life.”
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