Co-op Group chief writes to PM calling for free school meal extension

'We simply cannot let any child go hungry as a result of this pandemic'

Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells has sent an open letter to Boris Johnson, after Marcus Rashford’s rejected plea, insisting that children eligible for government-funded free school meals are not left hungry during a one or possible two week ‘circuit breaker’ half term.

The letter – which was also sent to education secretary Gavin Williamson – comes as the government refused yesterday to extend the summer holiday meal vouchers scheme into half term, claiming the country “is in a different position now”.

The Group has also pledged to provide vouchers during October half term for all 5,000+ eligible students in its 25 Academies across the north of England, as schools start to break from next week.

Mr Murrells also told decision makers that the Group will be making £20 available to each student each week, as opposed to the current £15 allocated by the DfE, as it is “simply the right thing to do”.

The retailer has already invested £2.6m in feeding its students since lockdown measures first came into effect and continues to offer vouchers to those eligible students who are self isolating.

Mr Murrells wrote: “We simply cannot let any child go hungry as a result of this pandemic. As chief executive of a leading business with its roots in the north, I can see at first hand the acute challenges faced by vulnerable children and their families. The need faced is more serious for families now than it was in the summer – jobs have been lost and whatever savings families had have long gone. As a nation we must step in and provide support to the communities who most need it.

“There are more than 1.4 million children in England alone who are in desperate need of support this half term – the fact that the Co-op support can only reach 5,000 deeply concerns me. I urge you to reconsider the Government’s position and ensure that this half term – and whenever a school is shut – vulnerable families can afford to feed their children.”

Marcus Rashford said: “The Co-op has been a fantastic ally and partner in recent months and whilst we remain focused on seeing a long-term sustainable framework implemented without delay via the three endorsed National Food Strategy policy recommendations, I welcome the swift action of the Co-op to alleviate fear of facing a school holiday without sufficient access to food resources for children across their 25 Academies in the north of England with the implementation of this scheme. The British public and the food industry cares, I would urge those in power to demonstrate the same without delay.”

The Co-op Group is encouraging colleagues and members to write to their MP, urging the government to change course and fund meals for all eligible students.

To read the letter in full, click here.

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