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ENGLAND striker Marcus Rashford has backed the Welsh government’s guarantee to provide free school meals during all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.
Rashford has led the line in the battle for feeding vulnerable children, first forcing the British government to reverse its decision to halt free meal vouchers during the summer holidays and then reaching a deal with national supermarkets to start the Child Food Poverty Task Force.
Yesterday saw Welsh Education Minsiter Kirsty Williams confirm that £11 million will be used for the upcoming school holidays, the same day Rashford launched his #endchildfoodpoverty parliamentary petition — putting further pressure on the British government to support vulnerable children via their National Food Strategy.
Rashford praised “the Welsh government's swift response to this urgent need in protecting the most vulnerable children across the country.”
With the October half-term round the corner, the minister said she was hopeful that the move “provides some reassurance in these times of uncertainty.”
She said: “We have worked tirelessly this year to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the countless challenges it has presented but we have not, and will not, forget those for who school is about far more than education.
“I am pleased to confirm that we have today made £11m available to provide free school meal provisions over every school holiday up to and including Easter 2021.”
Williams added that more than £700k had also been allocated to support colleges with the equivalent provision for eligible learners.
Speaking on the move, Rashford said: "Holiday provision is vital to stabilising households during the school closures, given the devastating effects of Covid-19.
“Having this framework in place for the foreseeable future will have a significantly positive impact on children who are struggling to engage in learning due to anxiety and fear, not to mention the noise of their rumbling stomachs.
“No child in 2020 should be sat in a classroom worried about how they are going to access food during the holidays, and the impact that will have on their parents when matched with unemployment, ill health and, in some cases, personal loss.
“There is still so much more work to be done to protect this next generation but I welcome the Welsh government's swift response to this urgent need in protecting the most vulnerable children across the country. Our children and their welfare should never not be the priority."
Rashford’s new petition calls on the government to extend free school meals to every child from a household on universal credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5 million 7-16 year olds, as well as expansion of holiday provision to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1m children.
It also calls for an increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week (from £3.10) and extending them into all those on universal credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of four.
The Welsh government’s move brings to £52.7 million the funds it has allocated to feeding vulnerable children during the pandemic, starting with the closure of schools at the start of the lockdown in March, throughout the summer holidays, and subsequently including provision for children entitled to free school meals but are shielding or self-isolating.
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