More than 10,000 meals were delivered to hungry children by businesses and community groups on the first day of half-term after the government refused to extend free school meals into the holidays.
Hundreds of organisations stepped up to provide free food to those who need it after the Tories refused to support a motion extending the voucher scheme that had kept more than a million children fed through lockdown and the school holidays.
Spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford, who has spent months campaigning to end child hunger, the campaign quickly went viral – leading to thousands of people being fed on the first day of the half-term break alone.
More than 400 people have so far responded to a call-out on Rashford’s Twitter page, in which the Manchester United star called for “incredible local businesses” to let him know how many free meals for children had been supplied.
A count of the replies by HuffPost UK reveals that more than 10,000 food packages were supplied on Monday alone. Some of these account for a single hot meal or packed lunch, while others include enough food for a week – meaning the true number of meals supplied free is likely to be much higher.
This figure is also rising continuously as more businesses and community groups reply to Rashford’s post, with organisers reporting thousands more meals requests for the week ahead.
Rashford’s campaign has been met with widespread praise, with thousands sharing his posts and his drive to end holiday hunger continuing to dominate the political agenda, days after the motion to extend the voucher scheme failed to pass.
Tory MPs have given a number of reasons for failing to support the motion, ranging from the government already “pumping money into the welfare system” and misleading claims families were spending the vouchers on items such as alcohol and tobacco – despite restrictions in place preventing this.
Several Tories have faced significant backlash for their comments in the wake of the vote and ensuing public outcry, with North Devon MP Selaine Saxby fiercely criticised for saying she “very much” hoped businesses who fed hungry children wouldn’t go on to ask for government support.
Her Facebook post began to circulate widely just hours after colleague Ben Bradley, suggested free school meal vouchers for the children in his constituency “effectively” went to crack dens and brothels.
Despite widespread anger at the decision not to extend free school meals, Boris Johnson has doubled down on his opposition to the motion, insisting on Monday that the “best way of tackling holiday hunger” was to boost Universal Credit.
His government has increased the benefit by £1,000 a year per household, but analysis by the Resolution Foundation has found that this is set to end in April 2021 – meaning many families will face a significant drop in income in the spring.
There were possibly murmurs of a U-turn when, 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.
“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.”