The government will provide free meals to disadvantaged children in England during the Christmas holidays after all, following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson phoned the Man Utd striker on Saturday to tell him of the new plans, which Marcus said would improve the lives of nearly 1.7 million children.
Ministers announced a £170m winter grant scheme aimed at helping low-income families struggling as a result of COVID-19, with the scheme running until early March.
The Holiday Activities and Food programme will also be extended to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.
Marcus has welcomed the government’s change of heart.
The footballer said he was “so proud” of those who had united behind his campaign and that he was “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of empathy and understanding.
“Following the game today, I had a good conversation with the Prime Minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK,” the England striker said in a statement.
“There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough, but the intent the government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.
“The steps made today will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 months, and that can only be celebrated.”
Marcus, who was last month awarded an MBE following his fight against child poverty, said he is “fully committed to this cause, and will fight the rest of my life for it, because in my mind no child should ever go hungry in the United Kingdom.
“I don’t want any child to go through what I went through, and any parent to experience what my mother experienced.
“I now call on the government to collaborate with the child food poverty task force, something the Prime Minister and I discussed last night, to guarantee that no child does.
“As a collective, we are so powerful and we all have a role to play in this, whether it be volunteering, donating, or as simple as a kind word.
“Today, I’m overwhelmed with pride that we have made such significant progress.
“We will not give up on our children. We will not give up on the future of this country.”