Minister: Parents like to pay ‘modest’ sum to avoid ‘label’ of free school meals

Parents prefer to pay a "modest amount" for children's food at a holiday club rather than have the label of a free school meal, a Government minister has claimed.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to perform a U-turn and back footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend the offer of free meals for children over the school holidays.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Universal Credit is available to support hard-pressed families and suggested that research from holiday clubs shows that parents prefer to pay a small sum for food.

Labour will force a Commons vote on the extension of free school meals to eligible children after the Government refused to prolong the scheme through the October half-term break.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've put over £9 billion into Universal Credit to help exactly those families that need that help, and we continue with the policy of holiday clubs."

The minister said research from a holiday club pilot scheme "demonstrates that families didn't just want the meals, although they valued the meals, they didn't like the labelling of them being free, they actually prefer to pay a modest amount, £1 or £2, but they valued the additional focus on exercise and on reading fun books and so on through the holiday".

25 PHOTOS
Marcus Rashford
See Gallery
Marcus Rashford
Manchester United's English Forward Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Europa League Group H first-leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on October 20, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United's English Forward Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Europa League Group H first-leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on October 20, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
(R - L) Manchester United's Michael Carrickm Chris Smalling, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young and Marcus Rojo celebrates with the trophy during the Emirates FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Final. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
England's Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney during the training session at the Stade du Bourgognes, Chantilly, France.
L-R: England's Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose and Marcus Rashford board the plane at Luton Airport.
England's Marcus Rashford (left) and Jesse Lingard during a walkaround at Stadion Stozice, Ljubliana.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (left) watches from the touchline as Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini (right) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford prepare to come on
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford scores his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final, first leg match, at the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos, Vigo.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (left) with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho after the final whistle during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (front) and Jesse Lingard celebrate winning the UEFA Europa league after the final whistle
(left to right) Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Stormzy and Marcus Rashford attend a gala dinner at Old Trafford in Manchester, held by Manchester United and Unicef to raise funds for the charity.
England's Marcus Rashford (left) shakes hands with manager Gareth Southgate after the Bobby Moore Fund International match at Wembley Stadium, London.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford lies in pain after picking up a back injury during the FA Cup third round replay match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez is substituted for team mate Marcus Rashford during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
England's Marcus Rashford (left) and Costa Rica's Celso Borges battle for the ball during the International Friendly match at Elland Road, Leeds.
England's Marcus Rashford appears dejected after the final whistle during the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.
Burnley's Phillip Bardsley (left) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford clash during the Premier League match at Turf Moor, Burnley.
A young Manchester United fan holds up a sign for Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in the stands
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United after scoring the 2-1 during the match between Valencia CF vs Manchester United of UEFA Champions League, Group Stage, group H, date 6, 2018-2019 season. Mestalla Stadium. Valencia, Spain - 12 DIC 2018. (Photo by pressinphoto/Sipa USA)
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League match at the Parc des Princes, Paris, France.
England's Marcus Rashford (centre) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mates during the Nations League Semi Final at Estadio D. Alfonso Henriques, Guimaraes.
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and Marcus Rashford during a press conference at Wembley Stadium, London.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford scores his side's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Labour will table a motion calling on the Government to continue directly funding free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021 to "prevent over a million children going hungry during the coronavirus crisis".

"Over a million children are at risk of going hungry over the holidays without access to free school meals. It is essential the Government provides this support urgently," shadow education secretary Kate Green said.

"We gave the Prime Minister the chance to change course, but he refused to do so. Now his MPs must decide if they want to vote for their constituents to get this vital support or if they will leave families struggling to put food on the table."

The Welsh Labour Government has pledged to provide free school meals during the holidays until Easter next year.

And a parliamentary petition started by England and Manchester United star Rashford, calling for food to be provided during all holidays and for free school meals to be expanded to all households on Universal Credit, has garnered around 300,000 signatures since being launched late last week.

Rashford, who has been made an MBE for his services to vulnerable children, forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays.

The fact that his petition attracted more than 100,000 signatures means it must now be considered for debate by MPs, under Parliamentary petition guidelines.

However, Downing Street has shown reluctance to extend the scheme, with a spokesman indicating last Thursday that ministers would not provide free school meals to children in England during the Christmas break.

Kate Green
Shadow education secretary Kate Green has called on the Government to show support for 'over a million children' she says risk going hungry through the holidays (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A Number 10 spokesman said: "It's not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays."

Labour said more than 1.44 million children who are eligible for free school meals will benefit if the scheme is extended.

The push to extend the scheme has been supported by education unions, with Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton last week saying: "The Government must show that it is committed to social justice by extending free school meal provision to school holiday periods during this time of national emergency in which many families are experiencing great hardship."

Read Full Story Click here to comment

FROM OUR PARTNERS