Labour is calling on the Government to provide free school meals during the holidays until the spring.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green has said “now is the time to act”, as she warned more than a million children could be left hungry over the school holidays due to the impact of the pandemic.
The party is giving the Government 72 hours to extend the provision of free school meals during the holidays – a campaign which footballer Marcus Rashford has been pushing – or it will force a vote by MPs.
The England and Manchester United striker’s petition urging the Government to go further in tackling child hunger hit 100,000 signatures just 10 hours after it was launched.
The Welsh Government has pledged to provide free school meals during the holidays until Easter next year.
But Downing Street indicated on Thursday that ministers would not provide free school meals to children in England during the Christmas break.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays.”
Ms Green said: “Millions of families face the prospect of losing their livelihoods because the Government has lost control of the virus.
“Its sink-or-swim plans for support could leave more than one million children at risk of going hungry over the school holidays.
“Now is the time to act. Labour will not stand by and let families be the victims of the Government’s incompetence.
“If Boris Johnson doesn’t change course, we will force a vote this week and give his backbenchers the chance to do the right thing.”
100k in less than a day.
The bigger the number the louder the voice…
We’re not stopping here – please sign and keep sharing.https://t.co/xRTvLb5YVt
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 15, 2020
Rashford, who has been made an MBE for his services to vulnerable children, forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays.
His petition – which calls for food to be provided during all holidays and for free school meals to be expanded to any household on Universal Credit – will be considered for debate by MPs after securing enough signatures.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The Government must show that it is committed to social justice by extending free school meal provision to school holiday periods during this time of national emergency in which many families are experiencing great hardship.
“Schools are working incredibly hard to help children catch-up with lost learning amidst ongoing disruption caused by rising Covid infection rates, and the pupils who need the greatest degree of support are often those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“To then have a situation where they are potentially going hungry through holiday periods is very obviously detrimental to both their welfare and educational progress.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “We have taken substantial action to make sure children and families do not go hungry by extending free school meals when schools closed, increasing welfare support by £9.3 billion, and giving councils £63 million to provide emergency support to families for food and other essentials.
“We also appreciate it has been a challenging time for families, which is why we have increased the safety net available to them with income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and support for renters.
“We are grateful to Marcus Rashford for his work shining a light on the significant challenges families are facing at this time.”