Boris Johnson has rejected a plea from Marcus Rashford to reconsider the government’s decision not to extend its free school meals voucher system for low-income families over the summer holiday period.
The Manchester United and England striker has urged politicians to perform a U-turn and ensure that vulnerable pupils can continue to access the national voucher scheme, which was introduced in March to help poorer families feed their children when schools were closed under lockdown measures.
Rashford’s emotional open letter, in which he spoke powerfully about his experiences of relying on free school meals, called on the government to reconsider the move not to extend a scheme which is worth £15 to recipients and has received support from education leaders and teachers’ unions.
However Downing Street has confirmed that the scheme will be ending when the school term ends. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “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.
“The PM will respond to Marcus Rashford’s letter as soon as he can – he has been using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, the country’s biggest union of teachers, said it “fully supports” Rashford’s demand to provide free school meals over the summer.
Rashford’s letter received a positive reception after being published on Sunday. “The government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same approach to protecting all vulnerable children across England,” the 22-year-old said. “I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider the decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020 and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance. Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”
Rashford has partnered with FareShare, a food distribution charity which is distributing three million meals a week to vulnerable people across the country during the pandemic. Yet the striker, who explained that his family relied on similar schemes during his childhood, believes that more needs to be done and said that he would not have become an England player without access to handouts in his youth.
“Without the kindness and generosity from the community there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today: a 22-year-old black man lucky enough to make a career playing the game I love,” he said. “Wembley Stadium could have been filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.
“This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry? Food poverty is a pandemic in England that could span generations if we don’t course correct now.”