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Back of the net! Campaigners celebrate free school meals win

Whilst footballer Marcus Rashford scored the final winning goal in the free school meals campaign, the Government’s u-turn on holiday hunger follows months of campaigning, lobbying and the threat of legal action.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

The Government has today announced a £120 million “Covid Summer School Fund” in response to growing pressure over ensuring 1.3 million children in England have access to free school meals during the summer holidays. The Government statement says it was in recognition of "the unique circumstances of the pandemic".

Also today, the Scottish Government announced an additional £27.6 million for an estimated 175,000 children in Scotland to continue to receive free school meals over the summer; and the Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said she will propose to the NI Executive that free meals for disadvantaged families in NI can go ahead "if the necessary finance can be secured". Prior to today's announcements, the Welsh Government already had a children's holiday food scheme in place, worth £19.50 per week for food for eligible children.

Barbara Crowther, Coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign said:

“This is not just a win for Marcus, it’s a victory for every parent struggling to find the money for the next meal, every child who might otherwise have had to skip meals, and every local school worrying about the health of their pupils if they had to go six weeks without support. We will be scrutinising the detail of this new fund and holding government accountable for making sure all £120 million ends up where it needs to – on children’s plates.”

The details of the scheme are not yet published, however the figure announced is equivalent to the £15 per week per child provided by the Government’s national voucher scheme during Covid-19 lockdown. Campaigners say they will now be scrutinising the fund more closely to ensure that it represents the same value to parents as their demands, and includes particularly vulnerable groups of children, such as those whose family immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds.

Imogen Richmond-Bishop, Sustain's Right to Food Coordinator said:

"Whilst I am pleased to see the commitment today from our Prime Minister to provide support to children over the upcoming summer holidays as no child should have to go hungry, this has to be seen as part of a broader move towards ensuring children's right to food 365 days a year. A large part of that will be ensuring that parents' and carers' income through work or welfare is set at a level high enough for people to live on, as well as ensuring that immigration conditions such as NRPF that are preventing people from affording enough food are revoked." 

The campaign for free school meals intensified in recent days following an impassioned letter from Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford to MPs and Boris Johnson. The announcement came as MPs prepared to begin an Opposition Day debate in Parliament led by Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

However, the decision also comes on the back of months of campaigning by charities, associations of teachers, food aid groups, and intensive questioning from Members of Parliament, led by Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP. A petition on Change.Org launched by 16-year-old Christina A had reached over 270,000 signatures, and members of the Youth Parliament, backed by Baroness d’Souza, had also launched an online placard march for #schoolmeals4summer on the eve of the decision.

Significantly, the decision came on the same day as the next step was taken on a legal challenge mounted by Sustain and Good Law Project, which had assessed the previous responses of Government and found they came short of guaranteeing no child would go hungry over the summer. 

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain, which brought the legal challenge working in partnership with the Good Law Project, said:

“Children getting the food they need is one of the hallmarks of a decent society. It is good news that Governments in Wales, England and Scotland have now stepped up to their responsibilities to help prevent children going hungry, in this time of continuing national emergency. Hundreds of thousands of parents struggling to feed their kids can now face the long summer holiday with one big worry taken off their minds. We await details of where the money will be coming from and how parents and schools will access it, but the announcements today from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are very welcome."

Jolyon Maugham, Director of the Good Law Project, said:

"We are delighted that the Government has finally seen sense and committed to the extension of free school meals over the summer holiday. A powerful coalition of voices - including the Conservative Chair of a Select Committee, a Labour Shadow Education Secretary and, of course, Marcus Rashford - has saved hundreds of thousands of children from going hungry this summer. We don’t want to overstate our part in all of this but, we think at least, the threat of litigation does help sharpen the mind."

Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, and one of many MPs who had been calling on Government to extend school meal provision over summer, said:

"This is fantastic news and is really down to the years of campaigning from individuals, charities, Local Authorities and organisations which have set the perfect environment for a celebrity like Marcus to enter the debate and make this change as we made the debate happen in the first place. So we should all be very proud of our role in making this happen and share the pride. We won and so did 1.3 million of the most vulnerable children."

Organisations celebrate campaign win

16 year old Christina A, an ambassador with Bite Back 2030, whose Change.Org petition to Boris Johnson achieved 266,000 signatures said:

"Today the government listened to us and announced they will be extending Free School Meal support over the summer! Thank you for adding your voice to this campaign, and for making a real difference to the lives of 1.3 million kids across the country, including me.

"This decision means we can have decent, healthy food over the summer and not spend six weeks not knowing what our next meal will look like. It will mean over a million young people are free like their peers to focus on the things we should be focused on, not whether or not we will be fed today. This may not have happened without you. But this isn’t over yet.  We shouldn’t have to have this fight every time we get to the holidays. Bite Back 2030 and I will keep campaigning for a permanent solution that supports our most vulnerable over the holidays every holiday and guarantees our right to a decent lunch. The fight goes on! If you haven’t signed yet please sign the petition and let’s make sure we don’t find ourselves here again next summer."

Stephanie Wood, CEO and Founder of School Food Matters says

“Common sense prevails. This is good news for 1.3m children and heartening to know that government has listened to campaigners, teachers, community workers and, of course, parents who just want to feed their children well.”

Anna Taylor, CEO of the Food Foundation says

“We are thrilled that today the government showed it is listening to the real needs of our most vulnerable children and made the right decision to extend free school meals into the summer holidays. Children’s access to enough nutritious food has long been a serious problem in the UK, and Covid-19 has made the situation much worse: this is not an issue that will go away without an effective long-term response from government. Free school meals are only available to fraction of children living in poverty, and if we are to prevent millions of young people suffering in future, we must make every child’s right to food an ongoing priority.”

Rob Percival, Head of Policy at Soil Association Food for Life says

“We’re delighted that Prime Minister has responded to our concerns. The ‘Covid summer food fund’ will provide a lifeline to many families in need. Further clarity is now needed on how the fund will be delivered. Will it be the same centralised voucher scheme, or (preferably) will funds be devolved to schools? Will the Government build on this commitment by ensuring that free school meals are adequately funded in the long run, and available to all who need them? The announcement today should not be the end of the conversation, but the beginning. The Government must place healthy and sustainable school meals, and household food security, at the heart of the upcoming National Food Strategy.”

Naomi Duncan, CEO of Chefs in Schools, which has been providing meals to children both in school and at home says

"At Chefs in Schools, we’re delighted to see the government u-turn on this. We’ve seen first hand the need, with children on the day schools closed in March already anxious about how they would eat with schools shut. This will be such welcome news for 1.3M+ families. No child in Britain should be going hungry and we support the call to go further and launch a Children’s Right to Food Commission to tackle food insecurity and inequality."


Notes to Editors:

Facts and Figures on Free School Meals

Published Tuesday 16 June 2020

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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