Rishi Sunak rejected calls from footballer Marcus Rashford to extend free school meals into the school holidays for the next three years.
The Tory Chancellor told BBC’s Andrew Marr that just like furlough has come to an end, free school meals coming to an end is also part of the transition to a “more normal way of doing things”.
It comes after Rashford sent a letter to the Sunday Times together with supermarket bosses and food industry leaders asking the government to continue giving meals to vulnerable children, even outside the classroom.
Letter from Rashford and food leaders
The signees argued that the move had brought “nutritional and educational benefits” to children at the beginning the pandemic.
The letter read: “Better jobs are the route out of poverty, and the virtue of these children’s food schemes is that when working families shore up their income they can buy school and holiday meals themselves.
“Until this happens, surely equality of opportunity and levelling-up begin with guaranteeing that every child in Britain can eat well – at least once a day.”
Asked whether the government would also act on Rashford’s call to give free meals to children aged 7-18 in households earning £20,000 or less after benefits, and to children that are undocumented or living in immigrant households with “no recourse to public funds”, Sunak told Times Radio that he would not comment ahead of next week’s budget announcement.
Earlier this month, Rashford said it felt “bittersweet” to receive an honorary doctorate for his work tackling child poverty just as the government slashed the £20 Universal Credit top-up.
‘Child hunger pandemic’
Accepting the award from the University of Manchester, he said removing the temporary increase “could see child poverty rise to one-in-three children”.
Rashford called for an end to the “child hunger pandemic” – and was backed by Sir Keir Starmer, who praised is “very powerful” comments and said the government was “effectively turning on the poorest”.
He said a Labour government would retain the £20 uplift – and abolish Universal Credit entirely. “It would stay, we wouldn’t make the cut, we would then replace it with something better,” Sir Keir told the BBC.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said the situation many families now find themselves in “reminds me… of when I as younger”.
The Manchester United forward added: “You’ve got to decide between – are you going to eat or are you going to be warm in the house?
“These are decisions that you don’t want people to go through, never mind children.
“And there’s other stuff, the price of fuel and electricity and there’s actually a shortage of food at the moment… as some of the food banks I work with are experiencing.”