Marcus Rashford’s free school meals petition reaches 1m signatures

Sam Hancock
·4-min read
 (Independent)
(Independent)

Footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition to expand access to free school meals for vulnerable children has reached 1 million signatures.

The online petition, titled “End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry”, was set up by the Manchester United forward just seven days ago on what turned out to be the eve of Tory MPs voting against the measure to extend free school meals over all holiday periods.

According to the parliament website’s official breakdown of figures, the area which has signed the petition most is Manchester. Bristol is second.

Mr Rashford announced the petition via his Twitter page on 20 October, imploring his 3.7 million followers to sign it. “If you can do one thing for me tonight, sign the petition,” Mr Rashford wrote.

“It’s time we put party politics aside and worked together to find a long-term sustainable solution to child food poverty in the UK,” he said.

Mr Rashford went on to say the government must “implement the 3 asks”, referring to three official recommendations made by the National Food Strategy to improve the lives of vulnerable children who are at risk of falling into the child poverty category.

The three asks are: to expand access to free school meals to all under 16-year-olds where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit, to provide meals and activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger, and to increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme.

The government has been under intense pressure to U-turn its vote against the measure to extend free school meals over school holidays, including Christmas, Easter and half-term. The vote took place on 21 October after the Labour Party tabled an Opposition Day motion in a bid to pile pressure on Boris Johnson to see the move through.

The House of Commons vote drew 261 votes in favour, with 322 against - including five rebel Tories who voted for the motion despite the Conversative Party being whipped to vote against it.

Afterwards, Mr Johnson told MPs that support would continue for children from low income families through the benefits system.

“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well,” the prime minister said.

On Mr Rashford’s official petition page, listed via the petition.parliament.uk website, the footballer said the government had a responsibility to ensure children “don’t pay the price” for the difficulties some families face due to coronavirus.

He told prospective signers that “14 per cent of parents and 10 per cent of children have experienced food insecurity over the last 6 months” while “32 per cent of families have lost income as a result of Covid-19” and “demand for food banks this winter is predicted to be 61 per cent higher than last”.

Alongside the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, Mr Rashford is calling on the government to allocate money to:

  • Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit

  • Provide meals and activities during all holidays

  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme

“These 3 recommendations must be implemented without delay to #endchildfoodpoverty," Mr Rashford finished by saying.

The prime minister has kept quiet on the public outcry concerning the vote on free school meals over the past week. It is not yet known if he will change his mind.

Shortly after the result of the vote was announced last Tuesday, Mr Rashford released a statement saying: “A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.

“We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation.

“This is not politics, this is humanity.”

A date for the petition, which you can sign here, to be debated in parliament is yet to be announced.

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