Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
Boris Johnson will reply personally to England footballer Marcus Rashford’s call for free school meal vouchers to be extended this summer, No.10 has announced.
But Downing Street refused to agree to the 22-year-old striker’s plea for emergency help for poorer families, stating instead that it had already come up with a £63m package of holiday club support.
With Tory MPs, charities and others piling on the pressure, a new Commons early day motion also called on the PM to meet the footballer and the Fareshare charity he has helped to raise £20million for food distribution in recent weeks.
Rashford, who was on free school meals himself as a child, wrote an open letter to MPs this weekend declaring that the government’s “whatever it takes” message on coronavirus now needed to be extended to cover the 1.3m children on free school meals.
Ministers extended a £15-a-week free school meals voucher scheme to cover Easter and May holidays, but have so far refused to extend it to the summer break.
Rashford’s letter, which has since gone viral, also highlighted the estimated 200,000 children forced to skip meals during the pandemic and criticised the two-child cap the Tories have placed on welfare benefits.
d The prime minister’s official spokesperson 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.
“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 Department for Education also appeared to harden its stance, publishing a new blog defending its refusal to U-turn.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast, Rashford explained how he had relied on free meals when his mother was a single parent to him and his siblings.
“It’s written from the heart and it’s about how my life was at the moment - the letter is to open up and let people understand the impact on families and to know I’ve done the right thing.
“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that - and it’s very difficult to find a way out. It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change - that’s why I wrote it.
“In the past I have done a lot of work to do with children. When I heard about the schools shutting down that obviously means free meals for some kids that they are not getting at schools.”
Former England start Gary Lineker was among those who praised the young Manchester United footballer on Monday.
“A young footballer shouldn’t have to be imploring our government to do this, but it’s great that he is. What a fine young man,” Lineker tweeted.
Lib Dem acting leader Ed Davey has tabled a Commons early day motion urging the PM to meet Rashford and the FareShare charity in person.
“Matt Hancock called on footballers to do their bit in this crisis, and Marcus Rashford is entirely right to ask the same thing of the government. The Government must urgently bring forward a scheme so that children are not left to go hungry over the school holidays,” he said.