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Boris Johnson has U-turned on his decision not to award free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays in England.
The government will now fund a scheme – for which nearly 1.3 million children are eligible – following a campaign by Manchester United and England football star Marcus Rashford.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday: “Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the prime minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.
“To reflect this we will be providing a Covid summer food fund, this will provide food vouchers over the six week summer holiday period.
“This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer.”
In response to the U-turn by Johnson, Rashford told his followers on Twitter to “look at what we can do when we come together”.
The scheme, which is £120m additional funding, will benefit around 15% of state school pupils.
Ministers extended the £15-a-week free school meals voucher scheme to cover Easter and May holidays amid the coronavirus crisis, but had refused to extend it to the summer break.
Several Conservatives also piled pressure on the prime minister to reverse that decision.
Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, tweeted: “It’s basic. Feed the kids.”
Rebecca Long Bailey, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the U-turn was welcome.
“It is thanks to the amazing work of Marcus Rashford and campaigners that the government has had no choice but to reverse their decision,” she said.
“The government must now confirm that this new money will be for the direct provision of free school meals to all eligible children.”
Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society said: “We are delighted that the government has decided to do the right thing by extending the free school meals provision over the coming summer holidays. This much needed step will prevent the 1.3m children who are eligible for free school meals from going hungry during what is likely to be a very difficult summer for many families and young people.
“The government should now prioritise improving the issues around accessing the voucher scheme – including providing more support for newly eligible parents to register – so families are not still left facing crisis.
“In the longer term, temporary extensions to eligibility for free school meals, such as for those with no recourse to public funds, should be made permanent, and provision should be extended to more low income working families who unfairly miss out. This will provide a vital lifeline to all children”
This morning work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey sparked an online backlash after she commented on Rashford’s tweets about the difficulties facing poorer families in the UK.
Rashford had urged MPs and the public to think about those struggling with bills that affected everything from hot water to meal times.
After HuffPost UK highlighted his tweets, Coffey intervened to refute his line about people facing the loss of hot water, saying “water cannot be disconnected though”.
Rashford, who relied on free meals as a youngster, hit back that “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn”.