26/10/2020 12:30 GMT

Boris Johnson Says Free School Meals Are Not The 'Best Way' To Feed Hungry Children

Prime minister responds to Marcus Rashford campaign by saying he is "very proud" of support the government has given to families.

Boris Johnson has said the government will do “everything in our power” to make sure no children go hungry in England this winter.

But the prime minister indicated he would not extend the free school meals programme as called for by Marcus Rashford.

Johnson said on Monday the “best way of tackling holiday hunger” was to increase the funds available for Universal Credit and to give local councils extra money.

The PM is under pressure from the campaigning footballer, as well as a number of Tory MPs, to change course.

Last week the government voted against a motion tabled by Labour in the Commons to extend the free meals programme over the half-term holiday.

Speaking on Monday, Johnson said: “We don’t want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this government – and you are not going to see that.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that no kid, no child goes hungry this winter during the holidays, that’s obviously something we care about very much”.

“I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it,” he said.

“The debate is how do you deal with it. We are very proud of the support we have given.

“We support the local councils— indeed we fund the local councils and many of the organisations that are helping in this period— but we are also uplifting Universal Credit by £1,000 and we think that is one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Sunday it was “not too late to do the right thing” and confirmed his party would force another vote if ministers did not back down in time for the Christmas holidays.  

Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, was among the Conservative MPs to warn Johnson over the weekend it had been a “mistake” not to continue with free meals for hungry children.

“Free school meals is just one of those totemic things – it is like the NHS, it can do no wrong,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.