Marcus Rashford’s petition to help poor kids get free meals in the school holidays has hit a million signatures.
The campaign on Parliament’s website passed the milestone today two weeks after it was launched by the England footballer.
Rashford, who was awarded an MBE for his work helping hungry kids, has called for a three-pronged approach to help children in the holidays.
But Tory ministers have refused to provide any extra help over half-term, which started this week, including £15-a-week vouchers seen earlier this year.
Boris Johnson has hinted he may pump more money into holiday clubs by Christmas – but there is no guarantee every child currently eligible will get a meal.
Rashford started the petition after stepping up his successful campaign to secure the £15 vouchers in the Easter and summer holidays.
He said in August the vouchers were a “sticking plaster” and “we need to switch focus to the bigger picture.”
His petition made three demands to be implemented “without delay”.
- Expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian claims Universal Credit or equivalent benefit. Currently only those with an income under £7,400 can claim.
- Provide meals & activities during all holidays.
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme. The vouchers for new mums to buy milk and other basic goods are currently £3.10 and uptake has sunk to a five-year low.
The petition has already passed thresholds to be debated in Parliament, but hitting a million signatures will pile pressure on Boris Johnson to heed it in full.
Its demands are similar to those made by the government’s food tsar, Leon founder Henry Dimbleby, in a report on child hunger earlier this year.
Mr Dimbleby has now presented a £1bn plan to the government – warning Boris Johnson has a “moral duty” to stop poor children going hungry.
The Leon founder urged No10 to “set aside ideology” as he outlined a plan to end the row triggered by Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals during the holidays.
His blueprint includes a holiday activity and food programme costing £500milion a year, a £100m healthy food voucher scheme and £670m extension of free school meals.
He told the Times: “There is a genuine problem with food poverty that has been exacerbated by this ( coronavirus ) crisis. We have a moral obligation to set aside questions of ideology.
“If we can’t solve this, who are we? I don’t understand why they (the Government) haven’t owned this. Their mission to is to level up.
“Clearly there was this massive bear trap that they walked straight into. It has cut through to a wide proportion of the population who ask, ‘Why when you’re spending all this money are you letting children go hungry?’”
The former head of the Government’s Troubled Families Unit urged the PM to “crack on with” providing free school meals over the Christmas break.
Dame Louise Casey, who was also the Government’s homelessness tsar, told Times Radio: “My heart is utterly breaking for the fact we seem to be in some political debate about whether we should extend free school meals for Christmas.”
She added: “It’s that perfect storm of reduction in service, reduction in benefit to people, rising costs, and I feel a very blinkered approach at the moment taken by the Government, particularly over the issue of free school meals, that masks a greater out of touchness with the public mood.
“I can’t tell you how many Conservatives and how many people I’d describe as being sort of centre-right One Nation Tories – they’re not happy, and neither should they be happy.
“I think Boris Johnson isn’t happy saying, ‘I’ve pledged to make sure every kid doesn’t go hungry this Christmas’. Well, let’s crack on with it then, Prime Minister.”