‘He makes a powerful case’ - Norfolk MPs back Marcus Rashford free school meals campaign
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A Norfolk MP has said footballer Marcus Rashford “makes a powerful case” as he again urged the government to reconsider its decision not to extend the current food voucher scheme.
The Manchester United forward is continuing his campaign to allow vulnerable children who have been getting free meals during the coronavirus lockdown to carry on receiving them over the summer holidays.
Mr Rashford, who has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has said he used food banks and received free meals during his underprivileged childhood in Manchester.
The 22-year-old penned an open letter this week asking the Government to reverse its decision to cease the scheme - for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible - outside of school term time.
The voucher scheme provides £15 worth of vouchers a week for each eligible child, which can be redeemed in a range of supermarkets.
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Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman described the footballer as “an inspirational young Brit” and urged the prime minister to back his camapign.
In a tweet he said: “Just seen and read his letter to MPs. He makes a very powerful case.
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“The Covid crisis demands special interventions. Adequate nutrition should be a fundamental basic for every child in our country.”
In a second tweet he wrote: “This is an unprecedented crisis. The PM and chancellor have been right to take unprecedented steps to help shield the most vulnerable.
“Free School Meals are a lifeline for many very low income families. Let’s do the right thing: extend FSM through summer.”
While a Department for Education spokesman has said the national voucher scheme “will not run during the summer holidays”, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman says the Prime Minister will respond to Rashford’s letter “as soon as he can”.
MORE: Government must urgently rethink decision to scrap free school meals over summerMr Rashford followed up his letter with a column in The Times on Tuesday, addressing the meal voucher issue and the broader subject of childhood poverty.
“I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education,” he wrote.
“I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because 10 years ago I was one of them.”
Pressure is mounting on the government to look again at the issue with prominent figures including Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and teaching leaders amongst those joining in the calls.
Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and 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.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party say they will today use an opposition day debate in Parliament to call on the Government to continue to directly fund the provision of free school meals. The party launched a Holidays Without Hunger campaign on Sunday calling on the government to make sure “no child goes hungry this summer”.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said: “You cannot just draw an arbitrary line at the start of the summer holidays as if magically by declaring that this is the line over which the Covid-19 free school meal voucher system will suddenly stop because that’s the point at which the crisis is over. It doesn’t work like that.
“The government is saying that the test, track and trace programme means that if you are contacted you need to go into isolation and you have to go on statutory sick pay but there is no way that people can self-isolate on that figure.
“I just find it incredulous that they would choose to pick a fight on this issue because it affects some of the poorest and most vulnerable children.”
Earlier in the coronavirus crisis, the Department for Education (DfE) extended financial support to children eligible for free school meals to cover the Easter holidays.
Originally the national voucher scheme, which allows families to claim shopping vouchers of £15 a week per child, only covered term-time meals.
However the scheme run by French company Edenred was plagued with problems as schools struggled to access the system and families were left without vouchers for weeks.
Meanwhile Suffolk Coastal MP and cabinet minister Dr Therese Coffey has found herself embroiled in a Twitter row with Marcus Rashford.
After the footballer tweeted early on Tuesday that people who were having a shower today should remember those who had had their water supply cut off, Dr Coffey, who is work and pensions secretary, replied that water supplies were not being disconnected during the lockdown.
The exchange has been widely picked up, but Dr Coffey later published more tweets welcoming his concerns about poverty – and putting forward the official government line that it would continue to support the poorest families but did not pay for free meals during summer holidays.