Thousands of doctors have slammed the government for refusing to extend free school meals over the holidays – as a petition by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford reaches more than 700,000 signatures.
More than 2,000 paediatricians have today signed an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging a rethink.
In the letter, co-ordinated by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the doctors say they are ‘shocked’ by the government’s refusal to extend the scheme to children from low-income backgrounds in England during the school holidays.
The college has called for the government to match pledges made by authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – who have agreed to extend the schemes across the Christmas, February and Easter holidays.
Speaking about the letter, Professor Russell Viner, President of the RCPCH, said: ‘I’ve rarely seen such anger among our members.
Thousands of members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have slammed the government for refusing to extend free school meals over the holidays
It comes as a petition by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford (pictured with his mother Melanie while helping at a food bank in Greater Manchester) has reaches more than 700,000 signatures
In the letter, co-ordinated by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the doctors say they are ‘shocked’ by the government’s refusal to extend the scheme to children from low-income backgrounds in England during the school holidays
The open letter by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to Boris Johnson in full
As paediatricians we are shocked by the refusal of the UK Government to extend the provision of free school meals in England to children from low-income backgrounds during the school holidays.
Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics.
Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat.
Every day, we see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in our work as paediatricians.
It is not unusual for us to care for children who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have access to a substantial meal outside of what is provided in school.
Good nutrition is at the heart of health, wellbeing and development for children and young people.
Without it, children’s health outcomes worsen, and with that, so do their life chances
More than 4 million children in the UK live in poverty and around one third of those are reliant on free school meals.
The pandemic has entrenched and exacerbated this reality; families who were previously managing are now struggling to make ends meet because of the impact of COVID-19.
It is not good enough to send them into the holiday period hoping for the best, while knowing that many will simply go hungry.
Food vouchers will not solve this problem, but they offer a short-term remedy.
We call on the UK Government to match the pledges of the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, to continue to provide children from low-income backgrounds with free meals over the coming weeks and to then extend this at least until the Easter school holiday, as they have done in Wales and Scotland.
We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and his powerful campaigning. His advocacy for children and young people has been a source of inspiration in difficult times.
We are proud to stand with him on this issue.
‘We care for children who don’t have enough to eat. We see far too many of them.
‘It is heartbreaking that it has become a normal part of our jobs and hunger is all too common for millions of families in the UK.
‘There is an opportunity to put this right. It is pointless to talk about levelling up the country, an ambition which we support, while refusing to offer temporary relief to children and families.’
The college says there are four million children living in the UK in poverty with the pandemic ‘entrenching this reality’.
Bosses say children ‘desperately need government support’ and that, while food vouchers will not solve the problem of child poverty, they do offer a short-term remedy for children that don’t have enough to eat.
Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement at the RCPCH said: ‘We’re a rich country. This isn’t about money, it’s about making sure people have food to eat, and it’s about doing the right thing for children who need a hand up.
‘We shouldn’t have to fight for food vouchers when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.’
It comes as a petition by Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, calling for an end to child food poverty, this morning nears 800,000 signatures.
The striker was also mentioned in the open letter by RCPCH, who praised his campaign and said they were ‘proud to stand with him’ on this issue.
Two Tory MPs were criticised for controversial remarks about the Manchester United player’s call for the meals to be funded over the school holidays until Easter 2021, with one suggesting that the money went to ‘crack dens and brothels’.
The other implied hospitality firms which stepped in to offer free food did not need Government help.
It came as No 10 moved quickly to stress that an aide to Chancellor Rishi Sunak who promised a ‘detailed statement’ on the issue was speaking in a personal capacity and not signalling a U-turn.
A Deltapoll survey for today’s Mail on Sunday found 71 per cent of voters support Rashford’s campaign, with 18 per cent opposed.
The 22-year-old, who was made an MBE for his successful campaign for free meals to be issued during the national lockdown, launched his new drive after Parliament rejected proposals to provide the free meals for vulnerable children.
The striker said that he was ‘truly overwhelmed’ by the fact that his online petition has garnered more than 700,000 signatures, and praised local communities for providing half-term, stop-gap measures.
Downing Street yesterday insisted it would not back down on calls made by the Manchester United player Marcus Rashford for school meals to be funded over the school holiday until Easter 2021
Parliamentary adviser to Mr Sunak, Tory MP James Cartlidge, defended the Government’s position on Twitter by saying the criticism was ‘wholly disproportionate… given we have the same reasonable position Labour had in every year of govt… that schools aren’t responsible for feeding pupils outside term time’.
However, he added: ‘But accept more to it than that and will make detailed statement in due course’.
No 10 later clarified the MP was ‘speaking in a personal capacity’.
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley triggered a storm by replying to a tweet in which another user described the free school meals programme as ‘£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel’, by saying: ‘That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did…’
After he was accused of stigmatising working-class families, he said his remarks had been ‘taken out of context’, and claimed he meant giving children who live in difficult situations an ‘unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever’ wasn’t ‘helpful’.
And in a now-deleted post on Facebook, North Devon MP Selaine Saxby said: ‘I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support’.
Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley triggered a storm by replying to a tweet about the free school meals campaign
Meanwhile North Devon MP Selaine Saxby was also criticised for controversial remarks about the footballer’s calls
Ms Saxby also claimed she had been taken ‘out of context’.
Her controversial comments came just days after the MP was barred from a Devon pub because locals were angered by her voting against an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have helped to protect farmers against being bankrupted by cheap, substandard food imports as part of post-Brexit trade deals.
Responding to the offers of free food from tea rooms, churches, farms and takeaways, Rashford said: ‘Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.
‘I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.’
McDonald’s has also offered support to families, announcing a partnership with food waste charity Fare Share UK to provide one million meals for families in need.
Tory MP Robert Halfon, who voted in support of extending free school meal provision, said it should be a ‘no brainer’ for the PM to meet Rashford to come up with a free meals strategy.
Downing Street said: ‘We are committed to making sure the most vulnerable in our society are protected and we’ve put in place a strong package of support to ensure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic.
‘The Prime Minister has said free school meals will continue during term time and that he wants to continue to support families throughout the crisis so they have cash available to feed kids as they need to do.’
More than 700,000 people sign a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals
By Raven Saunt
More than 740,000 people have already signed a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals.
Earlier this week, a motion to offer food aid to vulnerable families over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the House of Commons by 322 votes to 261.
But the defeat sparked fierce backlash with Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, calling on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children.
The latest petition, which was launched on 38 Degrees, said: ‘MPs have voted against extending free school meals into the holidays for the poorest children in the UK, in the middle of a pandemic.
‘They should under no circumstances benefit from free or subsidised meals out of public funds themselves.’
More than 740,000 people have already signed a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals (parliamentary canteen pictured)
The petition has nearly reached its target of 800,000 signatures (figures earlier today)
MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss. Pictured: Members’ Dining Room menu in September 2019
MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss.
This means that public money is effectively spent subsidising the overall catering operation.
The petition has so far received more than 740,000 signatures out of its 800,000 target.
Portia Lawrie, who started the petition, said: ‘I only started this petition because I was so angry that some MPs had rejected the chance in parliament, and Marcus Rashford’s campaign, to extend free school meals into the school holiday.
‘I wanted to point out the clear hypocrisy between that and the food and drink the public subsidise for MP’s whilst denying support to those most in need of it.’
‘I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching unfold as hundreds of thousands of people threw their support behind it in less than 24 hours.
‘It’s simply unfair that the government is refusing to use OUR money for one of the most basic responsibilities of a compassionate society – feeding hungry children. And the level of support this petition is getting shows clearly the level of hurt caused by those who voted against it.’
The link to the petition has since been shared by a range of famous faces including actors Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite.
The link to the petition has since been shared by a range of famous faces including actors Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite
It comes after Rashford tonight tweeted to ask people to ‘rise above’ disappointment, describing abuse of MPs and their families in recent days as ‘unacceptable’ and unnecessary’.
He wrote: ‘I want to take a quick second to acknowledge that a number of MP’s, and their families, have received unacceptable abuse over the last couple of days, especially on Twitter.
‘Believe me, as a Premier League player, I know all too well what that feels like, and it’s unnecessary. We are all bigger than that.’
He said he cannot and does not condone personal attacks on females in particular.
Calling for ‘collaboration’ and ‘togetherness’, he added: ‘Disappointment is a natural reaction, but we must rise above it.’
Earlier this week the athlete told BBC Newsnight that he ‘couldn’t be more proud to call myself British’ after his campaign to provide free meals to children this Christmas sparked an outpouring of support on social media.
Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, called on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children
The Manchester United footballer thanked hundreds of cafes, pubs and restaurants which came forward to offer half-term food for vulnerable children following the vote.
In a statement released to the flagship programme, the ace also responded to criticism of his decision to start the campaign, saying those who wanted to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’ would find them in his Twitter feed.
Dozens of hospitality businesses have shown they ‘stand with Rashford, not the 322’ MPs who rejected the motion, by supporting families during the school holidays.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight, the England star said: ‘Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family.
‘When we stumbled, we were caught with open arms. Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.
Hospitality giants, councils and small firms rally to help vulnerable children
Local businesses and organisations:
- The Greystones – Sheffield
- Kingfisher Fish and Chips – Hull
- The Courtyard – Birmingham
- Farm Fresh – Nottingham
- Rayrayz – Liverpool
- Birchwood Autumn – West Lancashire
- EJF Buffets and Banquets – Solihull
- St James Church – Rawstenall
- The Loft Cafe Bar – Bingley
- The Gilt Rooms – Essex
- Oliver’s – Surrey
- Delphine Fish and Chips – Sheffield
- Pearson’s Bar – Hull
- Toast 2 roast – St Helens
- The Panda Club – Liverpool
- Manjaros – Middlesbrough
- Mumtaz – Leeds
- Barry’s Tearoom – Cumbria
- The Rhubarb Shed Cafe – Sheffield
- The Vale Cafe – Rothbury
- Warrens Fruit and Veg – Watford
- Jenny’s Brackley – Brackley
- The Fun House – Whitehaven
- Jo’s Place – Wilmslow
- Bowring Park Cafe – Shropshire
- Greenfields Farm – Telford
- Minikin Art Cafe – Manchester
- Babuls – Teesdale
- The Sandwich Shop – Rotherham
- Khandoker – Didsbury
- The Hawthorne – Warrington
- The Watering Can – Liverpool
- The Pudding Pantry – Nottingham
- Patna – Leek
- Astoria Bar – Urmston
- Belluno – Devon
- Aubergine Cafe – Wirral
- The Crown Inn – Bristol
- The Courtyard – Wigan
- The Handsworth – Sheffield
- Bakers – Bolton
- Lucid Games/Tranmere Rovers – Wirral
- Royal and Derngate – Northampton
- The VIllage Fish Bar – Bamber Bridge
- Bik Smoke Brew Co – Surbiton, Kingston, Hammersmith, Weybridge, Chichester, Wokingham
- Pavilion Street Kitchen – Cornwall
- Count House Cafe – Cornwall
- The Art House – Eastbourne
- Market Hill Fisheries – Winterton
- Kingfisher Fish and Chips – Hull
- The Poachers – County Durham
- Cafe Baraka – Cleethorpes
- Jordan’s Cafe – Worthing
- Duke’s Head – Great Yarmouth
- Weoley Castle – Birmingham
- Portofino Ristorante – Harrogate
- Lillies Coffee Shop – Rotherham
- Kimble’s – Billingham
- No Bones – Hastings
- Tintinhull Village Hall and Coffee Shop – Yeovil
Councils and regional authorities:
- Greater Manchester City Region
- Telford and Wrekin
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Cheltenham Borough Council
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Portsmouth City Council
- North Tyneside
- St Helens Borough
- Manchester City Council
- Birmingham City Council
- Sheffield City Council
- Knowsley Council
- Birmingham City Council
- North Tyneside Council
- St Helens Borough Council
- Hackney Council
- Portsmouth Council
- Shropshire Council
- City of Wolverhampton Council
‘I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
‘You want to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’, look no further than my Twitter feed and that’s exactly what you’ll find.’
Some business giants are involved in the campaign, with McDonald’s set to deliver a million meals for children in the next few weeks.
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson backed a campaign to provide free meals to vulnerable children, seeing it pass £35,000.
Ms Lawson tweeted: ‘It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is more important to feed a hungry child than argue about how it’s done.
‘Or rather, donate if you can and then do what’s necessary to stop those who make children going hungry policy.’
Councils including Redbridge Borough Council, Southwark Council, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Liverpool City Council also said they would help out.
And smaller firms such as Aubergine Cafe in the Wirral, which is managed by Andrew Mahon and his wife May, have launched their own rescue missions for children.
Announcing plans for food vouchers via the Co-op, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: ‘Was good to tell @MarcusRashford that we, his home city-region, aim to be the first in the country to achieve his vision.’
After unveiling a similar scheme in his city, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson tweeted: ‘Families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. No child should have to go hungry and in Liverpool we won’t let them. Thanks for your hard work and campaigning @MarcusRashford.’
A host of celebrities also offered their support to the England star, with journalist Caitlin Moran tweeting: ‘Marcus Rashford’s timeline swells your heart – people across the country doing something about feeding kids at Christmas.’
Musician Tim Burgess, a fellow Mancunian, tweeted: ‘Wow, @MarcusRashford is a true hero of our times. So many MPs should feel shame over the fact that a footballer is helping the needy, more than they are.’
Support also came from across the football world, with ex-England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker posting: ‘Well played @MarcusRashford. Check his timeline. Extraordinary from a remarkable young man.’
A top regional Conservative politician has since waded in to the furore, blasting the Government’s ‘last-minute’ decision-making.
West Midlands mayor Andy Street said the Government should make ‘a clear decision’ on whether it would or would not fund free school meals over holidays ‘well in advance’.
Asked if the Government should have to fund half-term meals, he said: ‘I think – at the last minute – you probably do have to fund it, is the answer to that.’
He added: ‘It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this.’
He said the lack of planning meant there was now an ‘indiscriminate arrangement’ across the country as to whether free school meals would be provided over the break.
McDonald’s funding will enable charity FareShare to redistribute food to families who need it most in the coming weeks.
UK and Ireland CEO Paul Pomroy said: ‘As a business we are committed to supporting and serving the communities in which we operate.
‘In these challenging times, we know it’s more important than ever to support those most in need.
‘When we temporarily closed our restaurants in March, our people, franchisees and suppliers rallied to provide surplus food and support to food banks and charities.
‘We were pleased that we were able to donate surplus food through FareShare and other organisations earlier this year, and we admire the fantastic work that FareShare continues to do to support families facing very tough situations.
‘I am pleased to support the distribution of one million meals to the families most in need this Autumn, and I wish to thank and congratulate FareShare for everything they’re doing.’
FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell added: ‘McDonalds is showing real leadership in supporting the most vulnerable in society to get access to healthy food at this critical time.
‘The funding will enable the equivalent of 1 million meals to be redistributed to our charity network very swiftly, and we are very grateful for their urgent support.’