Rashford warns MPs: Don't turn 'blind eye' to food poverty

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.

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.”

1:23

Rashford will be aiming to force the government into another U-turn on making free meals available to school children during the holidays, Kaveh Solhekol reports

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.”

Marcus Rashford 0:31

Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Marcus Rashford can be one of the world’s best strikers for the next 15 years alongside Kylian Mbappe

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: ‘You don’t know how it affects people if you’ve not been through it’

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.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the head coach / manager of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester United at Turf Moor on December 28, 2019 in Burnley, United Kingdom 0:31

Solskjaer talks about Rashford’s work off the pitch after he was awarded an MBE and launched an online petition demanding more help for vulnerable children

“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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