Rashford letter sees government u-turn on free school meals for 1.3m pupils

England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford sent an emotive open letter to MPs, urging them to ‘protect the vulnerable’ by extending the Coronavirus meal voucher scheme over the summer.

The 22 year-old Tweeted out to his 2.7 million Twitter followers:


Naturally, a high profile figure raising the issue of child poverty gained a lot of traction – and a mixed reception. While many supported the points raised by Rashford, and related to his family’s plight, the seemingly out-of-touch Therese Coffey pulled an absolute howler, with what must have been one of the most ill-conceived and callous Tweets of the year so far. Since deleted, Coffey responded to Rashford’s personal account:

“Water cannot be disconnected though”

Later, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions changed her tune:

This half-baked back-track neither goes the full way towards an apology, nor does it actually do the job of satisfying what Rashford was calling for. Coffey even went as far as to cite the Conservative’s success in protecting families versus their Labour party rivals. It’s fair to say her footing in the debate wasn’t strengthened by her efforts to dig herself a deeper hole – and Twitter was happy to oblige her, with one user citing her unsavoury voting record, while another simply replied, “A cab for Mrs Coffey”.

Meal voucher u-turn

In the end, though, and after mounting pressure on social media, the government made a notable u-turn on its free school meals policy on Tuesday.

The prime minister welcomed Rashford’s contribution to, “the debate round poverty”, before announcing a Covid summer school fund. The new initiative will extend the £15 per week voucher scheme for those eligible for free school meals, for an additional six weeks (until the start of the new school term).

While summertime provision of lunchtime meal subsidies was already in place in Scotland and Wales, the scheme was originally due to end at the start of the summer holidays in England.

It is estimated some 1.3 million children are eligible for free school meals in England, a number which accounts for 15.4% of state school pupils. According to figures published in 2019, the need is greatest in parts of London, the North and Midlands, where up to a third of all pupils were receiving free school meals.

In response to the policy change, the man of the hour responded:


After herd immunity and visas for NHS staff amongst other issues, today’s policy shift represents yet another change of heart, for a PM who seems to come undone when things don’t fall neatly into place.

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Senior Journalist at the UK Investor Magazine. Also a contributing writer at the Investment Observer, UK Property Journal and UK Startup Magazine. Postgraduate of King's College London with a specialisation in Business Ethics. Interested in Development Economics and David Hume.