Rashford calls for review of Government free school meal policy

Footballer Marcus Rashford has stepped up pressure on Boris Johnson over free school meals in England with a call for an urgent review of the Government’s policy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The England and Manchester United striker has joined with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the actress Dame Emma Thompson to press ministers to develop a strategy which could help end child food poverty.

In their letter to the Prime Minister, backed by more than over 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, they welcomed the “robustness” of his response to the “inadequate” meal parcels being provided by some private companies.

Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

However, they said that after a series of problems – including over vouchers and the holiday provision of meals – that had arisen during the pandemic, it was the right time to “step back and review the policy in more depth”.

“This review would provide the Government with the opportunity to future-proof its policy on school food, and to carefully consider how best to support low-income children and families in the aftermath of the pandemic,” they said.

“School food is essential in supporting the health and learning of our most disadvantaged children.

“Now, at a time when children have missed months of in-school learning and the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our health, this is a vital next step.”

They said the review should look at the eligibility thresholds for free school meals to ensure disadvantaged children were not excluded.

It should also consider whether the current allowance was adequate and how schools could be supported to deliver the best quality meals.

Earlier, Home Secretary Priti Patel became the latest senior minister to condemn food provider, Chartwells, after images showing the poor-quality hampers were widely shared on social media.

“The company that were involved with that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves quite frankly,” she told ITV’s This Morning.

“It was thoroughly unacceptable and it is right that the Government are investigating them. I personally think some action should be taken against that company.”

She said that a national voucher scheme for free school meals will relaunch on Monday.