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Government must urgently rethink decision to scrap free school meals over summer

PUBLISHED: 09:04 16 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 16 June 2020

File photo dated 14-11-2019 of England's Marcus Rashford. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 17, 2020. Here, the PA news agency looks at the players from qualified home nations England and Wales who could now feature at Euro 2021. See PA story SPORT Coronavirus Euro 2020 Winners. Photo credit should read Nick Potts/PA Wire.

File photo dated 14-11-2019 of England's Marcus Rashford. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 17, 2020. Here, the PA news agency looks at the players from qualified home nations England and Wales who could now feature at Euro 2021. See PA story SPORT Coronavirus Euro 2020 Winners. Photo credit should read Nick Potts/PA Wire.

PA Wire

THE EDP AND EVENING NEWS SAYS: In times of crisis, sometimes help can come from the unlikeliest of places - and these truly are times of crisis for the many families facing a summer struggling to feel their children.

When the government decided not to extend the free school meal vouchers scheme across the summer - despite these unprecedented times - few would have expected the calls to reverse the decision to be led by an England international footballer.

However, this is precisely what Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has done, sending an open letter to Westminster calling for the decision to be reversed.

Before becoming England’s youngest international goalscorer, Mr Rashford knew what it was to live in poverty - for his family to have to scratch and claw just to put meals on the table while he pursued his footballing dream.

Here in Norfolk, there are thousands of families going through this very same struggle, and just as many whose lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic.

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Already the pandemic has seen families having to muddle through delays and confusion around their food vouchers - a six week period without this vital crutch could prove even more devastating.

Just last year, figures collated by End Child Poverty showed that in some parts of the county close to a third of all children were living in poverty, including 31pc of those in Norwich and 30pc of those in Great Yarmouth.

Around this time last year it was reported that some 7,000 children were fighting poverty in the Waveney area alone.

It is when you look at these stark figures that you realise just how important things like free school meals are for these families.

With the country bracing itself for the worst recession in a generation, the need will likely become even more critical, with the likelihood of further families plunging into poverty - and crucially the need of those already living in it growing.

The cost of continuing the scheme would surely be a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the multi-billion pound HS2 project, for example, which is estimated to cost up to £78.4bn. However, this could be the difference between a child eating or not.

Healthy nutrition is absolutely vital for the development of our future generations and can not, and must not, be underestimated by those within the corridors of power.


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