It took footballers and campaigners to throw a fit that woke the conscience of the UK Prime Minister to get the Covid Summer Food fund going. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford led campaign has forced Johnson to bow down. In order to avert public embarrassment, Johnson is now being forced to provide food vouchers for some of England’s poorest families.
It is known that he retracted on his previous stance under mounting pressure from the Conservative MPs as well who had threatened to rebel against the government. Downing Street then announced a new £120m “Covid summer food fund” for 1.3 million pupils in England. All of 22 years only, Rashford went public talking about food poverty he faced himself before hitting it big in the British football circuit. Advocating for food vouchers to not be stopped, he took to Twitter where he said, “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
Poverty is a sad reality of Britain as well. According to the Guardian’s findings, more than 30 percent of children in primary schools in Tower Hamlets and Newcastle claim free school meals. Also, areas of London, along with Knowsley, Merseyside are reported to have the highest rates of free school meals among secondary school children. Free school meals are a huge bonus for many school going children.
Though politically motivated, pressure from the Conservative MPs has atleast helped a million children to start with. Number of children under poverty goes up to 4 million. In Manchester, where Marcus Rashford grew up, estimate 28.1% children are said to be claiming free school meals. However, the concentration is greatest in parts of London, the north of England and the Midlands where between a quarter and a third of all pupils are receiving free school meals. In the recent years, access to free school meals has attributed to lowering obesity levels and boosting academic achievement of poorer pupils.
The Conservative backbenchers, it is confirmed, have urged the Prime Minister to continue to focus on child poverty if he wanted to shore up party support in so-called “red wall” seats.
Football rivals to Manchester United also praised Rashford, who last week supported the Black Lives Matter campaign. As a turnaround on the previous decision, Johnson has said that A “Covid summer food fund” will now offer six-week food vouchers to children eligible for free school meals in England during the holidays. Scotland and Wales will also follow suit. In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time.
The free food voucher program that had to end before the summer break has costed the government more than £129m since lockdown began. The program has also run throughout the Easter and May half-term holidays.
Many families then had been issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card worth £15 each week per pupil, to spend at supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S. But it was later reported that the system had suffered problems including schools struggling to log on, with parents being unable to download vouchers and some saying the vouchers failed when they tried to use them.
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