Rashford starts petition over UK's free school meal extension refusalComments
The UK government has rejected a call from Manchester United star Marcus Rashford to extend a scheme that would give disadvantaged children free school meals over the October half term and Christmas holidays.
The scheme, which normally ends with the school term, was stretched over the summer months this year after a successful campaign from the 22-year-old footballer saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson back down on the usual rule.
He is now campaigning to see the scheme extended again to protect British families on benefits amid the COVID-19 crisis.
But, on Thursday, the UK government appeared to push back on the campaign - a move reminiscent of its refusal to back an extension in June, before enacting a much-publicised U-turn.
"It's not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holiday," the prime minister's spokesperson told reporters.
Under the petition, which has been signed by tens of thousands of people, Rashford has called for every child under 16 who has a parent on benefits to be given school meal vouchers for the upcoming holiday breaks.
He is also calling for an expansion on holiday provisions, including food and activities for disadvantaged children and an increase in the value of the vouchers to help families affected by coronavirus to buy essential groceries.
In response to Downing Street's comments on Thursday, Rashford said: "Merry Christmas kids.
"It's also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising.
"This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I."
The petition comes as the UK's biggest food bank network warned last month that food insecurity was increasing among the population as coronavirus continued to impact jobs and livelihoods.
The Trussel Trust, of which its networks span the country, said tens of thousands of people had needed to seek support from food banks for the first time due to the pandemic.
It also warned that destitution rates could double by Christmas if government support is withdrawn.
At the time of writing, Rashford's petition has received 92,000 signatures and needs just 8,000 more to be considered for a debate in parliament.
"Today, 490,000 children across the UK are sitting in class worried to death about not being able to access food during October half term," Rashford wrote earlier in the week.
"490,000 vulnerable children. Worried sick about going hungry when the school closes.
"Let that sink in."