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Marcus Rashford: he knows the value of government-provided meals for school-age children; Boris Johnson doesn’t.

Boris Johnson has announced a plan to force around three million school-age children to starve over the summer holidays.

He didn’t say it in quite those words when he rejected footballer Marcus Rashford’s plea to extend the free school meals scheme into the summer holidays – of course he didn’t – but that is what he meant.

Mr Rashford had written to Johnson, pleading for a change of heart from the prime minister who had decided to end the food voucher scheme, in an open letter telling of his own experiences of relying on free school meals. But his plea fell on deaf ears. Johnson doesn’t care about poor people’s children.

Instead, the prime minister’s spokesman said the government was making £63 million available for local authorities to help families struggling to afford food and other basic essentials – a fraction of the £115 million needed to feed school-age children alone.

Mr Rashford, who used food banks and received free meals as a child, has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare – and may therefore be said to have done more to help feed school-age children than Johnson.

It seems the government – ever conscious of its image – has belatedly realised that this is a public relations disaster and tried to mitigate the effect by sending a minister on a round of the media to say Johnson’s gang will be putting £9 million into a holiday activities and food programme that will feed 50,000 children – just 1.67 per cent of the total number going hungry thanks to Johnson’s cruelty.

Fortunately, Mr Rashford has found allies beyond the government. Here’s the Co-op:

And of course the general public is behind him:

But Keir Starmer’s new New Labour party is notably silent:

And of course there’s always a Tory minister around to put their feet in their mouth and make matters worse. In this case – of all people – it had to be the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey:

In a plea to MPs he tweeted: “When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown”.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey replied: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”

Ms Coffey is right that the law stops water firms disconnecting the supply to people’s homes. But the law doesn’t stop gas or electricity firms disconnecting their supplies, used for heating. That means while water can’t be switched off entirely, “hot water” can.

Marcus Rashford then stepped in – telling her: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn.”

Two hours later, after the backlash, Ms Coffey posted follow-up tweets addressed at the footballer.

She wrote: “I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share.

“We are working to the same aim. I & this Govt will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond.

“We supported people renting and ensure they cannot be evicted & intervened with electricity suppliers on bills.

“We have kept schools open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We will continue to support the economy and help all of us get through this.”

Weasel words. We have already seen that the government is withdrawing help and support from families. And it seems the people are not convinced:

It seems they are right to be sceptical, too. Senior Tory Robert Halfon has broken ranks to warn that even the meagre cash promised instead of free school meals will never reach the children who need it.

He said:

“The problem with these kinds of programmes is it’s very bureaucratic.

“People have to apply to the council, whereas the free school meal programme is very simple, families understand it and it goes to those who need it most.”

Asked if he supported Mr Rashford’s campaign, Mr Halfon told BBC Breakfast: “Yes I do. He is an inspiration, he is a hero of our time.”

He earned of a looming “ice age for vulnerable children”, with 2.5 million not learning, 4 million having no contact with their teachers and food insecurity nearly doubling.

“Families face not just health worries, but enormous financial anxiety and enormous stress,” Mr Halfon said.

Contrast this attitude with the hundreds of billions in corporate welfare that Johnson pulls out of the government’s back pocket whenever big business needs it:

That’s right – apparently Johnson can give big businesses (whose fat bosses are already hugely rich) £150 billion, but can’t scrape up 0.08 per cent of that to help feed starving kids. And people voted for this, by a landslide.

POSTSCRIPT: This Writer has been a long-term critic of Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams, but she’s on the right side over this issue. As the Labour-run Welsh government’s education minister, she has announced that children here will continue to receive support throughout the summer holidays.

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