Hundreds in Dacorum back Marcus Rashford school meals petition ahead of Parliament vote

The England footballer launched his campaign last week to extend free school meals across the holidays

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 10:08 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 10:10 am

More than 1,000 people in Dacorum have signed Marcus Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty, which will be put to a vote in Parliament today (Wednesday).

The Manchester United and England footballer launched his campaign last week to extend free school meals across the holidays and to more children.

The Labour Party has forced a Commons vote on whether to extend the offer after the Government refused to commit to Mr Rashford’s demands.

More than 1,000 people in Dacorum’s parliamentary constituencies have signed Marcus Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty

The star sportsman has urged politicians to back the vote, tweeting that if “your MP doesn’t deem providing vulnerable children with vital food resources a priority then you must ask yourself why”.

As of around 3pm on Tuesday, 1,126 people in Dacorum’s two constituencies - Hemel Hempstead and South West Hertfordshire - had signed the petition urging the Government to provide more help to children at risk of going hungry.

It calls for free school meals to be extended to every child from a household on Universal Credit or an equivalent benefit, and to be provided throughout holidays as well as during term time.

It also says Healthy Start vouchers – given to eligible women who are pregnant or those with young children to buy basic foods – should be raised from £3.10 to £4.25 per week and made available to all those on Universal Credit or a similar benefit.

Across the UK, nearly 300,000 people have signed the petition since it went live on October 15.

Downing Street seemed to reject the scheme last week, with a Number 10 spokesman saying it was “not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays”.

But the Labour Party has tabled a motion calling on the Government to continue funding free school meals over the school breaks until Easter 2021, with a vote in the Commons scheduled today (October 21).

Writing on Twitter, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Over a million children could go hungry over half term and Christmas holidays if free school meals aren’t extended.

“Conservative MPs must listen to campaigners, including @MarcusRashford and vote with Labour tomorrow to extend free schools meals.”

Mr Rashford, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children, said on Twitter that he had spoken to “a number of MPs who I know care”.

He added: “Whilst I don’t agree with another sticking plaster method, these children do need protecting during the upcoming holidays.

“If your MP doesn’t deem providing vulnerable children with vital food resources a priority then you must ask yourself why.”

The footballer’s continued campaigning on child food poverty comes after he forced the Government into a U-turn over holiday food vouchers during the pandemic earlier this year.

In Dacorum’s constituencies, 3,531 children were eligible for free schools meals in the last school year, the latest Department for Education figures show.

Across England, around 1.4 million children had the right to claim.

But the Food Foundation think tank, which is working on the campaign with Rashford, estimated that nearly 1 million additional children have recently been registered for the scheme as Covid-19 drives more families into poverty.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that research from a holiday club pilot scheme showed parents prefer to pay a “modest amount” for children’s food at a holiday club rather than have the label of a free school meal.

He added: “We’ve put over £9 billion into Universal Credit to help exactly those families that need that help, and we continue with the policy of holiday clubs.”