‘Christmas without hunger’: Suffolk’s joy as Rashford campaign nets school holiday support
- Credit: PA
A £220million boost to support the poorest children and families through Christmas and Easter has been welcomed in Suffolk - after footballer Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign.
The government came in for sharp criticism for not agreeing to the funding of free school meal vouchers during October half-term, with more than 1m people signing a petition by the Manchester United and England footballer.
Downing Street said at the time: “We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through Universal Credit rather than government subsidising meals.”
However, prime minister Boris Johnson personally phoned Rashford after United’s weekend match against Everton to confirm £220m of extra funding for both the Covid Winter Grant Scheme and the extension of the Holiday Activities and Food programme to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021.
Jack Abbott, county councillor for Ipswich’s Bridge division and Labour’s spokesperson for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: “I want to pay tribute to Marcus Rashford who has forced this U-turn.
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“Because of his determination, compassion and grace, hundreds of thousands of children can look forward to a Christmas without hunger.
“You cannot overstate the difference he has made to the lives of so many families.
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“Of course, this belated decision doesn’t absolve Boris Johnson and his MPs from voting down the extension of free meals over half-term - we won’t forget that.
“However, the incredible generosity of businesses and charities in lieu of the government’s support meant that thousands of children could still eat.”
Making the announcement, Suffolk Coastal MP and work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no-one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”
Braintree MP James Cleverly said: “I’m glad that there is agreement that Free School Meals isn’t the best way to help children and their families through this difficult time” - saying the additional funding “will support children and families this winter.”
Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford also said the extra funding was “good news”, while Geoff Barton - general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, also welcomed the announcement.
He said his union was “at a loss” as to why it could not have been ready for the October half-term holiday, but added: “Nevertheless, the commitment over the next few months is a positive step forward and should help to address the fact that the financial circumstances of many struggling families will have worsened as a result of the Covid emergency.”
However, Mr Abbott added: “The government mustn’t give themselves a pat on the back and say ‘job done’.
“This will help feed children in the short-term, but it won’t combat the fundamental causes of child poverty and hunger.
“This needs to be just the first-step.”