Marcus Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty has topped a million signatures as thousands of cafes, restaurants and local businesses stepped in to support struggling families without access to free school meals over the half-term holiday.
It is one of only five parliamentary petitions to attract a million signatures, and the first since the last general election, galvanised by the 22-year-old footballer’s campaigning skills and deft use of social media to gather support.
Hundreds of thousands of people signed up in protest after MPs last week voted down a Labour motion to extend free school meals until Easter 2021 in order to stop children going hungry.
Labour has since piled on the pressure, calling for transparency over the chancellor’s role, amid reports of a row between the Treasury and the Department for Education. “It’s unbelievable that this government would refuse to provide food to the country’s poorest children at the height of the pandemic”, said the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds.
“And now ministers are engaged in a desperate blame game rather than admitting they got this wrong and putting it right.”
The chancellor’s spending review has been set for 25 November and Downing Street said Rishi Sunak could announce extra support to feed families through the school holidays, though many in government remain opposed to food vouchers.
Rashford’s petition calls on the government to expand access to free school meals, provide meals and activities during holidays to prevent hunger and expand the healthy start scheme to provide more support to young mothers on benefits.
As the million milestone passed, the Manchester United and England striker used his Twitter account to highlight the efforts of great-great-grandmother Flo Osborne, 89, who has baked hundreds of pies to feed hungry children over half-term.
More than 2,000 cafes, restaurants and other businesses in England have so far joined Rashford’s call to support struggling families during half term, according to All Of Us Together, a team of tech and campaign volunteers who have set up an interactive map to register participating organisations.
Alison Killing, from the All Of Us Together team, said they were asking participating businesses to report back on how many meals they give out during the week to build up a map of demand and help local councils support families.
“We want to make sure we capture the places offering help, and make sure that the families who are struggling see where they can get help locally – sharing the map in your local facebook groups and in your communities will go a long way to making that happen.”
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