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No kid should go hungry in Britain, Councils promise free school meals after footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign

Manchester United and England striker Rashford has raised more than £20m during lockdown after teaming up with FareShare, a charity "fighting hunger and food waste". Rashford says he will "keep fighting" so that no children go hungry. ... "This is England in 2020 and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance.

A growing number of councils in England are promising to provide free meals for children of families facing hardship during the half-term school holidays.

Labour-run Birmingham City Council is one of the latest to announce it will supply vouchers - for 61,000 pupils.

Tory-run Staffordshire and Kensington and Chelsea will do the same, amid a sustained campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.

The government has ruled out extending free meals nationwide beyond term time.

It said it had given councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions and had increased welfare support by £9.3bn.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons voted against a Labour call to make free meals available across England - for those normally eligible for them in term time - during holidays for the next six months.

Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, said the government should have made "a clear decision" on whether it would or would not fund free school meals during holidays "well in advance".

Asked if the government should have to pay for half-term meals, he said: "I think - at the last minute - you probably do have to fund it."

During a visit to a food bank in Manchester with his mother Melanie, Mr Rashford said he would keep pushing the government to change its policy.

Reacting to criticism from some MPs, including claims of "virtue-signalling", he told BBC Breakfast: "I'll take that all day long as long as we start to see improvements going forward for the people that are in need of it now. That's what is important to me."

The owner of Castle Beach Cafe in Falmouth will be offering free lunch bags to children who normally get a free school meal.

Fiona Crump said she thought she was doing a "local, small thing", but was surprised by "the sheer volume" of social media shares of her announcement.

"It reminds you in times of doom and gloom that the vast majority of people are delightful, helpful, caring people and the world needs to be reminded of that."

Mr Rashford, who forced a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays, has been re-tweeting details of councils offering their own schemes over half-term.

Several mainly Labour local authorities have decided to take action themselves.

Liverpool Council will pay for the daily lunches of 19,800 children in the city during the half-term break, beginning on Monday, while Redbridge, Hammersmith, Camden and Southwark councils in London will continue to support children eligible for free meals during term time.

Greater Manchester's Mayor, Andy Burnham, is offering 1,000 vouchers for children across the region to spend on meals in Co-op stores during half-term.

Newcastle City Council is providing packed lunches, while City of York Council, Rochdale Borough Council, Rotherham Council, Kirklees Council, Medway Council, Middlesbrough Council, Bradford Council and Essex County Council are among those promising more help.

Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council and Staffordshire County Council are promising a £15 voucher to the families of as many as 3,300 and 18,000 children respectively for food or essential supplies during the break.

More than 200 children's authors and illustrators - including children's laureate Cressida Cowell, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman and Frank Cottrell Boyce - have also called for "organised" financial help from the government.

Their open letter states that "no child in this nation should go hungry this winter" because of the pandemic and no family should have to rely on "pot-luck charity".

A Labour MP, who did not wish to be named, said it was not sustainable for councils to pay for meals over the holidays in the long term and they hoped the government would be "shamed into action".

Petition
Mr Rashford's parliamentary petition calling for free school meals to be extended beyond term time has attracted more than 500,000 signatures.

Treasury minister Steve Barclay said all measures would be kept under review but emphasised the extra £9bn in support available through the welfare system, including housing allowances and hardship funds for councils.

Downing Street said the government's position was "clear" and there would be "no change" in policy.

And a government spokesperson said: "This government has expanded eligibility for free school meals to more children than any other in decades."

In Scotland, the government has made £10m available to local councils to continue to fund free school meals over the Christmas, February and Easter breaks. Local authorities that offered provision over the October school break can apply to be reimbursed.

The Welsh government has also pledged to extend free school meal provision to every school holiday until Easter 2021, spending £11m.

In Northern Ireland, the scheme will run over the half-term break.

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