UK govt enacts U-turn, backs footballer Rashford's free school meals campaign

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford during the warm up before taking on Arsenal, November 1, 2020.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford during the warm up before taking on Arsenal, November 1, 2020. © Phil Noble, REUTERS

The UK government on Sunday relented anew to a vocal campaign by Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, promising to give free meals to poorer children over the coronavirus-afflicted Christmas holidays and beyond.


After one U-turn already for the summer holidays, the government has dropped its opposition to extending the scheme over the festive period, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Rashford on Saturday to brief him on his new spending commitment.

The 23-year-old striker received the call after he played in Manchester United's 3-1 Premier League win over Everton. 

In a statement, Rashford said, "I had a good conversation with the prime minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK."

The footballer, who grew up impoverished himself, said he was "so proud" of those who had united behind his campaign on social media, promising to "fight for the rest of my life" to end child hunger in Britain.

In recognition of his widely praised campaign, Rashford was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in Queen Elizabeth II's latest honours list last month, and he sports the title proudly on his Twitter feed.

The economic fallout from the virus outbreak is pushing more British families into poverty, leaving many unable to afford essentials such as food and heating. 

Poorer children are guaranteed free meals during school term-time, but not in the holidays. The government had resisted giving out meal vouchers to tide their families over, preferring to offer support via its wider benefits system.

But Rashford's campaign has struck a chord with many, especially with Christmas coming up, and the government has been confronted with regular headlines accusing it of being heartless. 

New funds of £170 million ($225 million) will pay for a winter grant scheme to support families over Christmas, and will be extended to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey announced.

"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," she said.


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