The UK government has performed a U-turn on a decision not to extend a free school meals programme into the summer holidays to help feed children who would otherwise go hungry.
It follows the campaign from Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, who had vocally urged the government to reverse its stance on the issue very close to his own heart.
The £120m ‘Covid summer food fund’ will help vulnerable children, whose only proper meal of the day might come at school, get access to food when schools are closed for the holidays.
A spokesman for the prime minister said, “Owing to the corona pandemic, the PM fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.
“The prime minister welcomes Marcus Rashford’s contribution to the debate around poverty, and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a sportsman to highlight important issues.”
Rashford himself was left stunned by the response and that his pleas have been heard.
"I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020," he tweeted soon after the new scheme was announced.
The government had initially taken the decision not to extend the programme into the summer holidays, prompting Rashford to write a very personal open letter to 'all MPs in parliament', recalling how his own family had struggled in his early life, despite his mum working tirelessly.
The 22-year-old explained in that letter that an estimated 200,000 children, enough to fill Wembley Stadium more than twice over, have had to skip a meal during the coronavirus crisis because families have been unable to access enough food.
Rashford has already helped raise around £20m in tandem with food distribution charity FareShare. But his pleas to the government on extending free school meals were rejected on Monday, despite prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledging the player had highlighted ‘very important issues’.
Rashford refused to give up his cause, which piled pressure onto the government, while he also voiced his concerns on Tuesday morning in a new column for The Times.