• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Marcus Rashford backs calls to urgently expand number of pupils receiving free school meals

·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Marcus Rashford has backed calls to expand the number of pupils receiving free school meals to ease the cost of living crisis.

The campaigner and England footballer believes the system should be changed to prevent “any child falling through the web of support”, a representative said.

But deputy prime minister Dominic Raab ruled out an expansion of free school meals, as he admitted that hearing stories of food poverty broke his heart.

Former education secretaries from both Conservative and Labour governments, as well as the mayor of London, charities and unions, have urged Boris Johnson to act as spiralling inflation sends food and energy costs soaring.

Teaching unions have written to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and other ministers, asking for free school meals to be provided to all children in England whose families receive universal credit, as an immediate first step.

Former Tory MP and education secretary Justine Greening told The Independent that the government has the chance to “avoid the mess” it got into on the question of free school meals in previous years, when it was forced into a humiliating climbdown thanks to a campaign led by Mr Rashford.

She and her Labour counterpart Alan Johnson also called on ministers to provide more comprehensive support during school holidays for children who receive free school meals.

A representative for Mr Rashford said: “Marcus has always supported and encouraged a review of eligibility as more households fall into difficulty due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances.

“What’s clear is that emergency response/aid is not the long-term answer here; the adoption of a modern, sustainable framework is required to prevent any child falling through the web of support or missing out simply because they are deemed ineligible.”

Asked if ministers should expand the system, Mr Raab said: “I think the question, fairly, is whether applying free school meals to everyone on UC [universal credit] actually will target the most vulnerable in our society.”

He added: “I’m not convinced it’s the most targeted way of dealing with the most vulnerable.”

Unions and organisations that claim to represent a million school staff made the call in a letter, which warned that many vulnerable children not receiving free school meals face a “real barrier” to their studies.

“Every school day we see the benefits free school meals provide to those currently entitled. For many it is the only hot, nutritious meal they have in a day,” it read.

“A quality school meal helps improve children’s concentration and behaviour during lessons. We witness, first-hand, the effect they can have on improving school attendance, on children’s health, and academic performance.

“However, the intensifying cost of living crisis means many more are now struggling to afford school lunches ... We see the devastating reality of children coming to school unable to afford to buy lunch, because their family circumstances mean they fall outside the restrictive free-school-meal eligibility criteria.”

The current threshold for eligibility for free school meals is an income below £7,400 a year, a figure that has been denounced by campaigners as “ridiculously low”.

A government spokesperson said over 1.7 million eligible children currently receieve free school meals.

“The Holiday Activities and Food programme runs during major school holidays, and wider welfare support is available through the Household Support Fund, which helps vulnerable families in need with essentials, such as food and utility bills.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting