UK government extends free school meals provisions

free school meals
Marcus Rashford's campaigning put significant public pressure on the government to shift its policy. Source: Ardfern (via. Wikimedia Commons)
The UK government has extended its provision of free school meals over winter and into 2021, following a campaign by Marcus Rashford

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

The UK government has extended its provisions of free school meals, establishing a Covid Winter Grant Scheme, and setting plans for further support in 2021.

The move follows a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, who welcomed the decision after speaking with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Beginning in December, the grant scheme will run until the end of March, with £170m going to councils, the majority of this to help with food and bills. A further £16m will help fund food banks in Britain.

The figures are part of a £400m commitment by the government to help poor families.

Rashford said: “I had a good conversation with the Prime Minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK.”

The decision is a backtrack from the government’s previous position, which was that Universal Credit and other means of welfare were the way to help child hunger.

Now, the government says it has acknowledged that school holidays can be “difficult” for some families, with children “at risk” of missing out on healthy meals.

This change of policy on school meals is not the first in recent times. Just last month the Conservative Party whipped its MPs to vote down a labour motion in the House of Commons to extend the provision of free meals.

And a previous campaign by Rashford led to the government continuing free school meals over the summer, after it had previously ended the provisions it started with the initial lockdown.

Now though, it seems the government is sticking with the programme, announcing a Holiday Activities and Food programme expansion, which will fund food and activities for up to £220m over Easter, summer and Christmas 2021.

Thérèse Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, said:

“We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.”

Rashford, who has made excellent progress so far in his campaign against child hunger, does not seem to be done yet, now pushing for a widening of the scheme to be available for more families who need it.

The Welsh government recently also extended its free school meals provisions over the holidays and into 2021.

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