Marcus Rashford clashes with Tory MPs over free school meals

England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has locked horns with Tory MPs in a Twitter row over the footballer’s campaign to extend free school meals (FSM) to cover holidays.

Fresh from scoring Manchester United’s winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday evening, Rashford told his followers he would be paying close attention to the FSM vote in the Commons on Wednesday and “to those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of our most vulnerable children”.

His message was repudiated by former Brexit minister Steve Baker, while Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield, tweeted “extending freebies are a sticking plaster not a solution”.

Quarter of a million sign Marcus Rashford’s free school meals petition

Rashford, who recently became an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list, has been widely praised for his intervention on tackling food poverty among children. However, Baker rejected the footballer’s suggestion that anyone would be turning a blind eye and flagged up the risks to the economy.

Labour will use an opposition day debate in the Commons to call a vote on the issue, with a motion: “That this house calls on the government to continue directly funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 to prevent over a million children going hungry during this crisis.”

In a post on Twitter, Rashford said:

To which Baker responded: “No one will be turning a blind eye and it is wrong to suggest anyone would. Not destroying the currency with excessive QE [quantitative easing] is also one of our duties.”

Then when Rashford asked Baker to turn on his comments and let him respond, Baker countered: “You have 3.4M followers Marcus, to my 96K. The power is yours here. Everyone knows feeding hungry children is a top priority. I’d like to see UC [universal credit] boosted. But if the economy and currency collapse, the poor will be devastated. Alleging a blind eye is just wrong.”

Undeterred, Rashford also took issue with Bradley, who tweeted: “Gov has lots of responsibilities: supporting the vulnerable, helping people to help themselves, balancing the books. Not as simple as you to make out Marcus. Extending FSM to sch hols passes responsibility for feeding kids away from parents, to the State. It increases dependency.”

Rashford responded: “Ben, the economy already pays a high price for child hunger. If children were fed properly you would increase educational attainment and boost life chances. @KelloggsUKI calculated we would spend at least £5.2M a year on lost teaching hours as teachers are caring for hungry kids.”

According to research by Labour, almost a million children living in areas in England that are subject to tier 2 and tier 3 enhanced coronavirus restrictions will lose access to free school meals over the holidays.

Asked about Bradley’s comments, a Downing Street source said: “The prime minister thinks the free schools meals programme is very valuable, and that is why it was extended by the Conservative government. We’ve got a whole range of additional support to make sure that children and their families don’t go hungry during the pandemic.”

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