UK backs soccer star's child food campaign

·2-min read

The British government has made another abrupt about-face following a hugely popular child hunger campaign by soccer star Marcus Rashford, saying it will now provide free meals to disadvantaged youngsters over the upcoming holidays .

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson phoned the 23-year-old Manchester United striker after his team's Premier League victory over Everton on Saturday to inform him of the government's decision to spend Stg170 million ($A308 million) in extra funding to support needy families over the coming year.

"Following the game today, I had a good conversation with the prime minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the U.K.," Rashford said.

His petition demanding the Conservative government pay for free school meals for disadvantaged students over the holidays attracted more than 1 million signatures.

The money will be handed to local authorities by December in time to support families over Christmas, many of whom are facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rashford, who has eloquently spoken about his own childhood experiences of relying on free school lunches and food banks, said the steps taken will improve the lives of nearly 1.7 million children in the U.K. over the next 12 months, "and that can only be celebrated."

Rashford said he was "so proud" of those who backed his campaign against child hunger and that he was "overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding."

It's the second time this year that Rashford has forced the government to change its policies. In June, it agreed to keep funding meals for poor students over the summer holidays after initially resisting.

The new money will pay for the COVID Winter Grant Scheme to support families over Christmas while the Holiday Activities and Food programme will be extended to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021.