Boris Johnson will reply to footballer Marcus Rashford’s plea for the Government to extend its free school meal voucher scheme through the summer holidays, Number 10 has said.
The Manchester United and England striker urged the authorities to make a U-turn and allow vulnerable pupils who have been getting free meals during the lockdown to still receive them over the summer break.
The 22-year-old’s open letter – which calls on the Government to reconsider its decision not to extend the current food voucher scheme – has received support from education leaders and teachers’ unions.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM will respond to Marcus Rashford’s letter as soon as he can – he has been using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, the country’s biggest teachers’ union, said the union “fully supports” Rashford’s demand to provide free school meals over the summer.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If the Government is genuinely committed to social equity, it must extend the provision of free school meals to continue during the summer holidays.
“Disadvantaged families are likely to have been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, and the very least we can do as a society is ensure that children from these backgrounds have something to eat.”
Former education secretary Justine Greening also backed the footballer’s demands. She said: “I know from my experience that there are lots of difficult decisions for ministers to take – this is an easy one.”
Rashford, who has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has admitted to using food banks and receiving free meals as a child.
He said he wants to help the families that need it the most, knowing how it felt to go hungry.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, added: “Holiday hunger has always been a great concern for school leaders and this summer is likely to be especially challenging for many low-income families given the impact of lockdown on finances.
“We agree with Marcus Rashford that the Government must not let children go hungry over the summer and should provide funding to extend free school meals.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister understands the issues facing families across the UK which is why last week the Government announced an additional £63 million for local authorities to benefit families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials.
“The PM also set out that as schools open more widely and their kitchens reopen, we expect them to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to schools.
“Where that is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Free schools meals are ordinarily term time only, and the national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.”
“Thousands of children will also receive additional support through our Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals throughout the summer holidays,” they added.