Rashford says child hunger worsening as MPs set to vote

Rashford says child hunger worsening as MPs set to vote

Campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford says child hunger is worse now than it was in the summer, when the government agreed to extend free school meals.

In a Tweet, he said he was keeping his eye on the Commons which is voting on a Labour plan to offer food support to poorer families until after Easter.

Rashford said he would be looking out for those prepared to “turn a blind eye” to vulnerable children’s needs.

The government says it already supports families through the welfare system.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs on the Education Select Committee on Tuesday that the situation was different now to the summer.

Before schools broke up for the holidays, Rashford’s campaign nudged ministers into a dramatic U-turn in which they agreed to continue food voucher support to those on free school meals throughout August.

But the Manchester United and England international said: “We aren’t in the same position we were in in the summer, it’s much worse,

“The number of children with little to no access to food has risen significantly.”

And Labour points to a “double whammy” of challenges as the furlough job support scheme comes to an end and Coronavirus restrictions increase in areas which already have high levels of poverty.

The party claims nearly 900,000 children in such Covid hot spots will go hungry, unless the government extends a food scheme.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Robert Halfon called on ministers to sit down with Marcus Rashford and his task force.

He said: “All the statistics show that families are struggling. We know that 10% of families are affected by food insecurity.

“It makes a huge difference – I’m not arguing it should go on forever, but the free school meals should at least go on at least until we are out of the coronavirus [pandemic], we hope, God willing, by next spring.”

Mr Halfon added that there was significant concern and support for the support plan among his fellow Conservative MPs.

A petition to end child food poverty launched by the campaigning footballer last week now has nearly 300,000 signatures.

Mr Gibb told MPs on Tuesday it was not for schools to support families through the free school dinner scheme, in the way that they were during the summer, because schools were now open.

He mirrored words from the Prime Minister who has also resisted calls for the extension.

But the Welsh government, which recently ordered a three-week lockdown, announced a move to offer food support to struggling families until next spring. Northern Ireland has also extended support for its children to a lesser degree.

Labour’s Opposition Day debate, due to be take place in the Commons on Wednesday, calls for the provision of free school meals to be extended over each school holiday from October half term to Easter 2021.

The first holiday, the October half term, starts in most areas next week.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner said: “This vote is about our values as a country and whether the government, in the middle of this crisis, is happy to let our children go hungry.

“Millions of families up and down the country are facing a bleak winter of real hardship as the furlough scheme is withdrawn and further restrictions are put in place without proper support for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.”

Data obtained by Ms Green from the Commons library suggests that nearly 900,000 children living in areas with either Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions are entitled to free school meals in the present system.

Labour argues these children and their families face a “winter of hardship” as the jobs retention scheme ends and further lockdown restrictions take their toll on the jobs and local economies.

It has been lobbying Conservative back benchers by letter to support the motion, which already has the backing of the teaching unions.

Many head teachers in poorer areas mounted food delivery operations during the school lockdown to ensure their pupils had enough to eat.

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