A U-TURN must be made over free school meals to help “those who need it most”, Boris Johnson’s own MPs have demanded today.
Pressure is mounting on the PM from footballer Marcus Rashford and scores of Tory MPs to keep its free school meals voucher scheme for 1.3million kids going over the summer.
The Government has already rejected the Manchester United star’s plea to stop kids going hungry when the school-meal vouchers system is halted for the holidays.
Ministers have said they will plough an additional £63million of money into local authorities to help those who can’t afford basic essentials.
But a huge backlash is growing, with MPs set to debate the issue in the Commons later today.
Rashford has already raised £20million through FareShare to help provide three million meals a week to those most in need.
It came as:
- Tory cabinet minister Therese Coffey was slammed for her ‘shameful’ response to Marcus Rashford online
- 600,000 people have already lost their jobs since the pandemic began
- Piers Morgan told the Health Secretary to “do your bit” and help
Writing in The Times today, the England striker said: “Today I focus on a trophy that stands for something much bigger than football.
“A U-turn on the decision to stop the free food voucher scheme continuing over the summer holidays could help us reach the next round but we still have a very long way to go as a country to eventually lift the trophy.
“In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.
“I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education.
“I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because 10 years ago I was one of them.”
He wrote an impassioned letter to the PM and Boris Johnson urging them to make a change.
Several Tory MPs have come out to urge the Government to think again.
George Freeman said this morning: “This is an unprecedented crisis. The PM @10DowningStreet & Chancellor @RishiSunak have been right to take unprecedented steps to help shield the most vulnerable.
“Free School Meals are a lifeline for many v low income families. Let’s do the right thing: extend FSM thru summer.”
Tory MP Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee added: “The problem with these kinds of programmes is its very bureaucratic.
“People have to apply to the council, whereas the free school meal programme is very simple, families understand it and it goes to those who need it most.
“If we are really going to be the workers’ party, we have got to support those workers when they are in distress.”
Ruth Davidson, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, tweeted: “I totally get that some LA funding has been put in place, but am baffled why WM colleagues picking this hill to die on.
“I didn’t have or need free school meals, but I went to a school where a huge % did.
“Food security during the holidays so important. It’s basic. Feed the kids.”
Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey said today: “Any government that is willing to let the poorest children in the country go hungry needs to take a long hard look at its priorities.”
This morning Piers Morgan blasted Matt Hancock as a “fiasco”.
The GMB host told the Health Secretary to “do your bit” and step up to help.
The Department for Education has already refused to reverse the plans, insisting the national voucher scheme “will not run during the summer holidays”.
The voucher scheme was extended over the Easter holidays and half term to give parents extra help with food costs.
Instead of getting free school meals like they would at school, they would instead get £15 a week vouchers to spend in supermarkets to keep their kids fed.
But the Government are currently standing firm in refusing to extend the scheme.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this morning: “We are still putting more money in even though not through the free school meals programme.”
Boris Johnson has yet to respond to Mr Rashford, but his official spokesman has insisted he will “as soon as he can”.
However, this morning Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey risked inflating the row with a spat on Twitter.
Rashford tweeted: “1. When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown #maketheuturn“
But Ms Coffey replied to another journalist’s tweet saying: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”
Rashford in turn wrote back: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn.”
Following their earlier exchange, Ms Coffey tweeted a further message to Mr Rashford, adding: “Hi @MarcusRashford, I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share. We are working to the same aim. I & this Govt will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond.
She added: “We supported people renting and ensure they cannot be evicted & intervened with electricity suppliers on bills. We have kept schools open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We will continue to support the economy and help all of us get through this.”
The Government will oppose Labour’s motion in the opposition day debate and will argue they have other targetted money instead.
It is believed that the measure over the six holiday weeks would cost about £115 million – less than the £63million the Government has promised councils.
Meanwhile, the government furlough scheme to help businesses is expected to cost up to £80 billion.