England footballer Marcus Rashford has hit back at a cabinet minister who failed to respond to his pleas for free school meal vouchers to cover the summer holidays.
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey sparked an online backlash after she commented on the 22-year-old’s tweets about the difficulties facing poorer families in the UK.
Rashford, who has been leading a campaign to get £15-a-week vouchers extended throughout the summer, 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”.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds added: “Imagine having priorities so warped that this snarky comment is your response to @MarcusRashford’s powerful campaign.”
Tory MP Simon Hoare made plain his backing for the Rashford campaign.
Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson also waded into the debate to urge Westminster colleagues to reverse their stance.
The fresh twist in the row came as a growing number of Tory MPs joined the campaign to get Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson to make a U-turn on their plans.
Labour leader Keir Starmer was set to stage an Opposition Day debate in the Commons which would challenge every MP to vote to extend the vouchers through the summer break.
No.10 has so far held firm, with the prime minister unveiling a new plan last week to give councils £63m in extra support for families in need through activity clubs and some free meals.
But the government plan was less than half of the estimated £115m cost needed to provide free meals to all 1.3m children eligible for the vouchers.
The department for education did extend the voucher scheme over the Easter and late May school holidays and several Tory MPs are baffled why ministers want to pick a fight with such a hugely popular public figure as Rashford.
One former minister with a southern seat told HuffPost UK: “How have we got ourselves into this mess? It is stupid not to extend it for the summer. It impacts my constituency, I hate to think what the Red Wall thinks.”
Boris Johnson has promised to reply to a letter from Rashford, and No.10 have praised him for using his high profile to raise the issue.
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon said he supports extending free school meals throughout the summer holidays because “so many people up and down the country are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and to feed their families”.
“It is not a lot of extra money if you add up all the different Government food programmes, but it’s simple, it works, and the public understand it. I think that’s why Marcus Rashford has so much support.”
Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the programme: “This is not about party politics, this is about making sure children don’t go hungry over the summer holidays.”