More than a million school children will be given vouchers for free meals over the summer following pressure from cross-party MPs and footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Government has announced a new “Covid summer food fund” to cover the six-week summer holiday for children who qualify for free school meals, fending off a looming Tory MP rebellion which was expected in a vote on Tuesday.
In what has been seen as a policy U-turn by ministers, about 1.3 million children will now qualify for the new vouchers.
Payment will be made through vouchers, valued at £15 a week for six weeks, and given to families at the end of term to use in supermarkets.
It will cost about £120 million in additional funding agreed by the Treasury and is separate to the existing crisis grant fund.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances. Those eligible will be those who already qualify for school meals.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said: “This is another welcome U-turn from Boris Johnson. The thought of 1.3 million children going hungry this summer was unimaginable. Well done to Marcus Rashford and many others who spoke out so powerfully about this issue.”
In an emotional open letter to MPs posted on Monday, Mr Rashford drew on his own experience of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up.
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 14, 2020
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The scheme will not continue beyond the summer” and added that the Government’s intention is to get schools up and running in September .
Asked whether Mr Rashford had influenced the decision, the spokesman said Boris Johnson “welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty. He respects the fact he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman”.
Full details will be set out shortly. The spokesman said he did not know whether this meant the Government will drop its amendment opposing calls for free school meals, saying it is a “matter for the whips”.
Asked when the Prime Minister took the decision, the spokesman referred to previous comments, saying: “We will be responding as soon as we could.”
Reacting to the news, Manchester United and England striker Mr Rashford said: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together. This is England in 2020.”
Mr Johnson on Monday rejected a plea from the England striker to reconsider the Government’s decision not to extend its free school meals voucher system for low-income families over the summer holiday period.
Downing Street instead confirmed that the scheme will end 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 £63 million 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.”
On Tuesday morning, Mr Johnson faced calls from inside his own party to act, as the education select committee chairman, Robert Halfon, backed the footballer’s campaign.
Mr Halfon said he supports extending free school meals throughout the summer holidays because “so many people up and down the country are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and to feed their families”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “The Prime Minister said that when we come out of this, we will not be in austerity again.
“If that is the case, I think an important example of this would be to keep the school meal programme over the summer, because it is not a lot of extra money if you add up all the different Government food programmes, but it’s simple, it works, and the public understand it. I think that’s why Marcus Rashford has so much support.”
Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said she was “baffled” that her Westminster colleagues were “picking this hill to die on”. She added: “It’s basic. Feed the kids.”
Therese Coffey tackles Marcus Rashford over free school meals plea
Therese Coffey has tackled Marcus Rashford over his campaign to extend free school meals over the summer .
The Work and Pensions Secretary reacted to a tweet from the Manchester United footballer, in which he said many parents “have had their water turned off during lockdown”.
Ms Coffey responded by saying: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”
The England striker said he was “concerned” that it was the only “tweet of mine you acknowledged”. “Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference,” he said.
Labour criticised the Cabinet minister, with the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, accusing her of making a “snarky” response to a “powerful campaign”.
Mr Thomas-Symonds urged Ms Coffey to “do the right thing” and “vote for free school meals for children in poverty this summer”.
Ms Coffey later attempted to quell the row, saying she welcomed Mr Rashford’s “passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society”.
“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.
I'm concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 16, 2020
- Marcus Rashford shares incredible letter he wrote as a kid revealing his one aim in life was to become a Man Utd star
- Boris Johnson larks around with Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron on the shores of Biarritz at the G7 after hitting back at Donald Tusk for calling him 'Mr No Deal' in Brexit row
- Barcelona interested in Man Utd striker Marcus Rashford as they search for Luis Suarez replacement
- Boris Johnson vs Jeremy Hunt: PM candidates' policies on Brexit, NHS and more
- 'It looks pretty scary': Boris Johnson flies over Whaley Bridge dam to see damage for himself as the PM promises to rehouse evacuees if reservoir bursts
- Jeremy Corbyn says Boris Johnson can't be trusted to obey the law
- Boris Johnson leads the condemnation of Scotland Yard's threat to PROSECUTE the Mail over Washington Files: Fury at counter-terrorism chief Neil Basu's 'ill-advised' and 'very stupid' infringement of the free press
- Boris Johnson and Donald Trump agree to strike UK-US trade deal by July 2020
- Watch again: Boris Johnson dares opposition to call vote of no confidence
- Boris Johnson: Diplomatic disaster, EU basher or reincarnated olive - who is the new British leader?
- 'We COULD have done a deal': Nigel Farage says he rejected Boris Johnson's pact offer because the Tories 'don't want a Brexit majority' - and he WILL fight Labour marginals as nominations deadline looms TODAY
- Boris Johnson. Liar, conman – and prime minister?
- Boris Johnson doesn't have Fox News but he can always rely on the Telegraph
- Boris Johnson wins Tory leadership race and will be UK's next Prime Minister
- Ex-UK Prime Minister Takes Aim at ‘Appalling’ Boris Johnson, Admits to ‘Many Regrets’ over Brexit
- Jennifer Arcuri refuses to answer six times whether she had affair with Boris Johnson and calls claims PM helped her business ‘fake news’ in GMB interview with Piers Morgan
- Boris Johnson gets tetchy with BBC’s Naga Munchetty as she grills him over private life
- General election: Boris Johnson avoids bun fight as Jeremy Corbyn heckled on indyref2
- Nigel Farage sips champagne at the Polo with Georgia Toffolo after 'costing Tories by-election win' and warns Boris will have to do a deal with him for Conservatives to stand aside in the north to let his Brexit party win seats in Labour heartlands
- Boris was hopping around like he had ants in his boxers: HENRY DEEDES watches the PM squirm on the BBC Breakfast sofa
Boris Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals through summer after Marcus Rashford plea have 1342 words, post on www.telegraph.co.uk at June 16, 2020. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.