Tory-led council in PM’s constituency helps Marcus Rashford’s school meals campaign

Tech companies and a local authority in Boris Johnson’s constituency are among the latest to throw their weight behind Marcus Rashford’s growing campaign to end child food poverty.

The 22-year-old England star has said he is “truly overwhelmed” by the groundswell of support his initiative has received, after Conservative MPs voted down proposals to provide free meals to vulnerable children during the school holidays.

More than 716,000 people had on Saturday evening signed the striker’s petition calling on the government to adopt three measures put forward by the National Food Strategy – one of which is expanding access to free school meals.

On Friday, Rashford’s Twitter feed was flooded with offers from councils, charities and businesses seeking to help amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among them was Conservative-controlled Hillingdon council, the local authority for Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

At least 150 organisations have registered with Kids Meals Maps, an interactive map created by communication firm PLMR to help those in need locate places offering free meals for children experiencing food insecurity this half-term.

Help Out When Schools Out, a similar initiative created by Rivo Agency and Designers Cartel, allows users to find the nearest free school meals in their area by typing in their postcode.

In a statement to BBC Newsnight, 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.”

Downing Street has declined to praise the outlets offering to provide free meals for vulnerable children over half-term.

In the summer, following a campaign by Rashford, who has spoken of benefiting from free school meals when he was growing up in Manchester, the government U-turned and agreed to provide £15-a-week vouchers to ensure children did not go hungry during the holidays.

With schools since reopened, a motion to repeat the move was voted down in the Commons on Wednesday despite the precarious economy and rising unemployment. On Thursday, the chancellor unveiled a multibillion-pound package to support businesses and low-paid workers during the crisis.

The Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who voted in support of extending free school meal provision, called on Johnson to meet Rashford to come up with a long-term strategy, calling such a get-together a “no-brainer”.

Meanwhile, West Midlands Tory 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”.

“It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this,” he said.

Other Tory politicians have sparked anger for controversial remarks. Among them Ben Bradley, who is accused of linking free school meals with “crack dens” and “brothels” after he posted a Twitter tirade.

Organisers at food banks and child poverty groups dealing with an increase in demand in Bradley’s Mansfield constituency have said their MP is misinformed.