The tale of a footballer who cared

And forced a Government with a huge majority to U-turn.

Back in March, at the start of lock-down, the Government addressed the needs of children who normally receive free school meals, and would not now be in school. £15 vouchers were promised each week for every child entitled to free school meals.

Teachers and classroom assistants report what a massive help the vouchers have been in recent weeks.

Opposition MPs recently called on the Government to continue the vouchers over the school summer holidays, which seems sensible and reasonable, but was originally met with a Government brick wall.

Even yesterday, Downing Street announced, “The PM understands the issues facing families across the UK, which is why last week the government announced an additional £63m for local authorities to benefit families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials.”

Then footballer Marcus Rashford rode to the rescue with a powerful letter to all MPs. Local Lib Dem County Councillor Morwen Millson writes, “I read Marcus Rashford’s letter last night. He painted a moving picture of what it was like to grow up in poverty in the UK and the pressures on his mother. His letter brought me close to tears.”

Opposition parties increased the pressure on the Government. Lib Dem MP for St Albans Daisy Cooper tweeted last night; “This is a very powerful letter. Of course we must ensure all children have food in the tummies over the summer holidays. What a total scandal we even have to say this.”

Conservative MPs started to feel nervous and responded to interviews this morning, with Scotland’s former Conservative Leader Ruth Davison predicting a U-turn before the end of the morning, saying, “I totally get that some Local Authority funding has been put in place, but I am baffled why Westminster colleagues are picking this hill to die on. I didn’t have or need free school meals, but I went to a school where a huge percentage did. Food security during the holidays is so important. It’s basic. Feed the kids.”

Finally, in a massive U-turn, Downing Street has announced, “All children eligible for free school meals in term time in England will benefit from the "Covid summer food fund.” About 1.3m children will be able to claim free school meal vouchers during the holidays.

The prime minister's official spokesman told reporters the extended scheme was "a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic".

Referring to Mr Rashford, he added: "The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues."

Morwen comments, “Just because free school meals or vouchers have not historically been provided during school holidays, does not mean they should not be. We live in a G7 country, and everyone should be able to afford to eat.

“Now the voucher system seems to be running effectively, it makes sense to keep it running – poverty is not going to go away during the summer holidays!”

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