BORIS Johnson is planning on giving local councils extra money to fund holiday clubs to solve the free school meals row, according to reports.
The Government faced mounting public anger at its refusal to extend free school meals into half-term and beyond following a campaign spearheaded by England footballer Marcus Rashford, but it plans something that is more long term to fix the problem.
The Holiday Activity and Food programme is the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby, the Government’s food tsar and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, and was piloted across 17 local authorities over the summer.
According to The Daily Telegraph, it would allow children to be given at least one meal a day outside of school time, and could be combined with extra study time to help pupils catch up on missed education.
It is too late for the scheme to be implemented over this half-term, but the paper reported Mr Johnson is going to make sure its in place for the Christmas holidays.
A petition started by Manchester United star Rashford for free meals to be extended in England over the school holidays was nearing one million signatures on Monday evening.
Businesses, community groups and councils – including Tory-run administrations – have answered his call and provided thousands of free meals for children as schools in large parts of England began their October break.
The Prime Minister insisted on Monday the Government would not allow children to go hungry.
Mr Johnson highlighted the money given to councils and said Universal Credit was “one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time”.
Universal Credit had been increased by £20 a week while £63 million was announced in June by ministers to help local authorities feed vulnerable families – although officials expect that money to have largely been spent already.
“I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it,” Mr Johnson said.
“The debate is how do you deal with it.”
Rashford has used his social media profile to highlight examples of businesses that have pledged to help with meals for local children.
Writing on Twitter on Monday evening, he called for businesses to let him know how many meals they had supplied on the first day of half-term.
Rashford’s club, in partnership with the Manchester United Foundation and the charity FareShare, will provide around 5,000 meals from the Old Trafford kitchens to children from local schools.
The Government’s social mobility watchdog also supported Rashford, saying 600,000 more children were in poverty than in 2012.
“We believe the Government should do all it can to start reversing that trend,” a Social Mobility Commission spokesman said.
“It should begin by ensuring that all children are properly fed.”
Sir Keir Starmer has warned that he would force another Commons vote on the issue if ministers do not relent in time for the Christmas holidays.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary blasted the Prime Minister.
“WARM WORDS WONT DO NOTHING”
Kate Green MP said: “Warm words from Boris Johnson will do nothing for the over 1.4 million children at risk of going hungry this half term that he and his MPs refused to help last week.”
“Labour will not not give up on the children and families let down by this government, and we will hold the Prime Minister to his word, forcing another vote in Parliament if necessary.
“The government must now make children a national priority, and ensure that no child goes hungry.”