Marcus Rashford calls for free school meals guaranteed over summer holidays
He said that a similar scheme would have made a "massive, massive difference" to his family
Marcus Rashford has called on the government and ministers to guarantee that free school meals continue over the summer holidays.
Last year the Manchester United star forced Downing Street into a u-turn on free school meals and has been an advocate for the schemes continuing throughout school holidays to help struggling families. When Rashford was younger he himself relied on free school meals and said that if he'd had help over the summer with free school meals it would have made a "massive, massive difference" to his family.
Vouchers for meals were offered during lockdown school closures but ministers had initially resisted calls to continue the £15-a-week coupons last summer. That was until Rashford got involved, and ultimately pressured the government into a u-turn after a hugely successful and passionate campaign.
Since then the 23-year-old has pressured the government into continuing to provide support throughout the November holidays and winter through a Covid grant scheme given to councils. This scheme has since been extended until June 20 to help families with food and bills outside of term time.
But Labour has warned that this does not guarantee free school meals for families in need, with more than 300,000 children having become eligible for free school meals since the first lockdown. As of October, a total of 1.63 million children qualify for free school meals.
Speaking to the Mirror, Rashford said that the scheme "definitely needs to be extended," explaining that it would have helped his mother hugely when he was younger.
He said: "It was much more difficult for my mum to keep on top of. Obviously in my household there were four children so as a single parent it was obviously tough for her.
“But when we were all in school or in high school, she can rest a little bit because she knows that we’re having a meal there, and then potentially she only has to worry about one meal, which is dinner time.
“So having free school meals throughout summer holidays for me would have made a massive, massive difference.
“And I feel like what’s happened this year, like the pandemic, it’s affected everyone in different ways.
“I just don’t see there being anything wrong with extending free school meals, like it’s going to do a lot more good than bad so I definitely think that that should happen.”
Labour's Tulip Siddiq, the shadow Children's Minister, has agreed with Rashford. Siddiq said that free school meals have "been a lifeline for so many children in this pandemic," and has accused the government of "passing the buck onto local authorities."
Addressing the calls from Rashford and Labour, a spokesperson for the government said: “Our expanded Holiday Activities and Food programme, which provides healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children, will run this summer in every local authority in England.
"Wider support is available including our increased Healthy Start scheme payments and we will continue to explore further options.”