A petition launched by footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford which received more than 1million signatures will be debated by MPs in parliament next week.
Rashford called on the government to end child food poverty by expanding access to free school meals, providing meals and activities during holidays, and expanding the Healthy Start scheme.
Rashford, who grew up relying on free school meals, has been a dedicated and effective campaigner on the issue in the last two years, and was recognised for his activism and sporting achievements with an MBE in the 2020 Queen’s honours.
He has also published a children’s book, and launched a book club for disadvantaged kids.
What was the petition about?
The petition, which was launched last November, highlights the fact that 14 per cent of parents and 10 per cent of children experienced food insecurity last year.
It came in the midst of a high-profile campaign led by Rashford to pressure the government into providing free school meals during school holidays in the pandemic.
It also notes that “32 per cent of families have lost income as a result of Covid-19,” and demand for food banks was predicted to be more than 60 per cent higher this winter than last.
As the petition was launched through the official e-petition portal, and has now received 1,113,879 signatures, the government was compelled first to issue a response and then to debate the issue in parliament.
The government responded to the petition on 11 November, saying: “We thank Marcus Rashford for highlighting the challenges facing families. On 8th November, the Government announced a comprehensive support package to help families through winter and beyond.”
Recent figures have shown that child poverty rates are rising in many parts of the country, particularly in the North East of England.
When will the debate take place?
The debate will be led by Catherine McKinnell MP, chair of the Petitions Committee, who spoke with Rashford in January about the petition.
McKinnell will introduce the debate to MPs from all parties at around 4:30pm on Monday, 24 May.
Writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, earlier this year, McKinnell said that there are “two key respects” in which the government’s response doesn’t “fully address the concerns raised in the petition”.
She wrote: “Firstly, the package provided only a partial response to the needs of vulnerable children from families on incomes that are too low to avoid food insecurity, but not low enough to qualify for key Government initiatives such as free school meals or the Healthy Start voucher scheme.
“Around 1.4 million children in England received benefits-related free school meals in January 2020, and over 250,000 mothers and young children currently benefit from Healthy Start vouchers – but there are over 4 million children in the UK living in low-income households.
“Secondly, beyond its specific asks on individual Government initiatives, the petition calls for an end to child food poverty in the UK.
“While we welcome the measures announced in the Government’s support package, these are mostly either one-off interventions (such as the Covid Winter Grant scheme) or have received no commitment to funding beyond 2021 (in the case of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme).”