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Second government U-turn on free school meals

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Boris Johnson has announced a £170m package to help children and families in poverty after pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford.

The prime minister was forced into a humiliating change of heart about child poverty after a compelling campaign by the Manchester United and England striker.

After weeks of ignoring calls to extend free school meals in the school holidays, Johnson phoned Rashford on Saturday night to tell him he’d changed his mind.

After the conversation Rashford Tweeted: “Just had a great conversation with the prime minister, now is the time for collaboration.”

The government has now announced a £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter. The scheme comprises of a raft of measures to help tackle poor health, hunger and education.

The scheme will be run by local councils with the funding ring-fenced so at least 80% goes towards  support with food and bills until the end of March 2021.

The scheme will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays.

The Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has provided food and activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, will also be expanded across England next year.

In addition, Healthy Start scheme payments will increase from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021.

This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four who have a low income and are in receipt of benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This will help people boost the long-term health of their children.

Thérèse Coffey, work and pensions secretary, 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.

“The government has acknowledged that school holidays can be difficult for some families, with children at risk of missing out on healthy meals, activities, and learning opportunities.”

The new scheme is the second time Rashford, who was awarded an MBA last month, has forced the government to change its policy.

Back in June the footballer, who experienced food poverty while growing up, persuaded the government to continue to provide free school meals during the summer holidays.

Rashford then set up the Child Food Poverty Task Force in conjunction with FareShare, Deliveroo and some major supermarkets, in September.