Marcus Rashford has stepped up his campaign to end child food poverty (Picture: SWNS / PA / Getty)
The England and Manchester United striker has joined with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the actress Dame Emma Thompson to press ministers to develop a strategy which could help end child food poverty.
In a letter addressed to the PM and backed by more than over 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, the signatories called for a policy review to be debated in parliament and published before the summer holidays.
They said the review should look specifically at eligibility thresholds for families below the poverty line, maximising nutritional value, and eliminating the stigma surrounding free meals for the poorest pupils.
‘This review would provide the Government with the opportunity to future-proof its policy on school food, and to carefully consider how best to support low-income children and families in the aftermath of the pandemic,’ the letter said.
‘School food is essential in supporting the health and learning of our most disadvantaged children.
‘Now, at a time when children have missed months of in-school learning and the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our health, this is a vital next step.’
The letter comes after free school meals provision was brought back into the national spotlight following pitiful images of food packages sent to children learning from home during lockdown.
A national voucher scheme will relaunch on Monday after the scandal prompted backlash from the public and politicians.
On Thursday Home Secretary Priti Patel become the latest senior minister to criticise the main food provider caught up in the row, Chartwells.
‘The company that were involved with that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves quite frankly,’ she told ITV’s This Morning.
‘It was thoroughly unacceptable and it is right that the Government are investigating them. I personally think some action should be taken against that company.’
A row erupted this week over the pitiful state of food hampers sent to children eligible for free school meals (Picture: Roadsidemum)
Chartwells has since announced it will add breakfast into its parcels for children eligible for free school meals after it acknowledged that there were local issues following school closures.
The managing director of Compass Group which owns Chartwells, Robin Mills, offered a personal apology and said they had a series of protocols to ensure the problems did not arise again.
‘We are moving quickly to fix the problem and to deliver on our commitments,’ he said in a statement.
In the letter to the Prime Minister, Rashford and his co-signatories welcomed the ‘robustness’ of his response to the ‘inadequate’ meal parcels being provided by some private companies.
But they said the series of problems that has arisen over the pandemic showed it was the right time to ‘step back and review the [free school meals] policy in more depth’.
Rashford has taken the Government to task over child hunger throughout the pandemic, successfully forcing ministers into U-turns over free school meals on a number of occasions.
Ministers were caught up in another row on Thursday after telling schools that they do not need to provide free meals or food vouchers for children during the February half term.
The Department for Education guidance says schools do not need to provide parcels or vouchers during the break as families eligible for free school meals will be supported through the Government’s Covid Winter Grant Scheme.
But Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of potential disruption to free schools meals provision during the break.
He said: ‘Suggesting that local councils will be able to recreate a brand new system of supplying free school meals for the week of half-term using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is an unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos this could cause will put millions of children at risk.’
A Government spokeswoman said: ‘As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half-term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.
‘Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.’
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