Marcus Rashford lashes out at ministers over free school meals

Marcus Rashford lashes out at ministers over free school meals

October 21, 2020

Marcus Rashford accuses ministers of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the plight of vulnerable children by resisting plea for free school meals during the holidays – as a senior Tory threatens to vote with Labour saying the scheme should run until the spring

  • Man Utd ace lashed out on Twitter ahead of vote on extending free school meals
  • He wants them to be handed out during holidays to the most vulnerable children
  • But ministers are resisting pressure to do so, saying other schemes are available 
  • Labour has forced vote today and Tory Robert Halfon admitted he could rebel  
  • Commons Education Committee chairman said scheme should run to spring

England ace Marcus Rashford clashed with Tory MPs today after he accused ministers of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the plight of hungry schoolchildren.

The Manchester United forward lashed out on Twitter this morning ahead of a vote on extending free school meals to the holidays.

His plea for the Government to fund hot meals for the most needy children during coronavirus lockdowns has so far been rebuffed by the Government.

Labour will use a Commons vote this afternoon to call for free school meals to be extended over each school holiday from October half-term to Easter 2021.

And a senior Tory said he was considering rebelling to join them. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said the meal scheme should run until the spring at least.

It came after a minister yesterday insisted people would rather pay than accept the ‘label’ attached with handouts.

Taking to Twitter today after scoring the late winner that saw Man Utd beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 last night, Mr Rashford Mr Rashford turned the blowtorch on the Government by urging his 3.4 million Twitter followers to lobby their MPs.

‘Paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of our most vulnerable children, 2.2M of them who currently qualify for Free School Meals,’ he said.

But former Brexit minister Steve Baker responded angrily, saying: ‘No one will be turning a blind eye and it is wrong to suggest anyone would.’ 

Taking to Twitter today after scoring the late winner that saw Man Utd beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 last night (pictured), Mr Rashford Mr Rashford turned the blowtorch on the Government by urging his 3.4 million Twitter followers to lobby their MPs.

But he became embroiled in a spat with former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who said: ‘No one will be turning a blind eye and it is wrong to suggest anyone would’

Mr Rashford replied: ‘At least turn on your comments and let me respond Steve. I very much welcome conversation on this.’

Labour’s support ensures pressure continues to mount on ministers to back Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend the offer of free meals for children over the school holidays.

A parliamentary petition started by the England star, which demands food be provided during all holidays and for free school meals to be expanded to all households on Universal Credit, has garnered around 300,000 signatures since being launched late last week.

Mr Rashford, who has been made an MBE for his services to vulnerable children, forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays.

The fact that his petition has attracted more than 100,000 signatures means it must now be considered for debate by MPs, under Parliamentary petition guidelines.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the Government was spending money on consultants rather than school children living in districts designated Tier 2 and Tier 3 Covid-19 alert areas during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘This vote is about our values as a country and whether the Government, in the middle of this crisis, is happy to let our children go hungry,’ she added. 

Mr Halfon said he could support a Labour motion calling for their extension to next Easter in the Commons on Wednesday.

‘I will either vote for the motion or abstain depending on what the Government says,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

He added: ‘What the Government needs to do is to have a long-term plan, sit down with the taskforce set up by Marcus Rashford and actually come up with a serious plan and a budget to deal with this problem.

‘All the statistics show that families are struggling. We know that 10% of families are affected by food insecurity.

‘I am not arguing this should happen for ever but the free school meals should at least go on until we are out of the coronavirus, god willing, by next spring.’ 

Devon MP Anne Marie Morris said she would also support the Labour plan.

‘The ongoing pandemic has had a heavy impact on many across Teignbridge, bringing with it significant economic difficulties for many,’ she said.

‘This is why I am supporting the motion calling for the continuation of direct funding for FSM over school holidays until Easter 2021. 

Devon MP Anne Marie Morris said she would also support the Labour plan.

‘This time-limited measure is a perfectly sensible response as we deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19. Longer-term I believe it is right that those eligible should be supported through the Holidays & Activities Food Programme and the Universal Credit system.’

However, Downing Street has shown reluctance to extend the scheme, with a spokesman indicating last Thursday that ministers would not provide free school meals to children in England during the Christmas break.

Yesterday, millionaire Business Minister Nadhim Zahari insisted struggling parents would rather pay than accept the ‘label’ attached to handouts. 

He said Universal Credit benefits were available to support hard-pressed families and suggested that research from holiday clubs shows that parents prefer to pay a small sum for food. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The research when we did the pilot demonstrates that families didn’t just want the meals.

‘Although they valued the meals, they didn’t like the labelling of them being free. They actually prefer to pay a modest amount, £1 or £2.’

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