Cafes, pubs and restaurants defy Downing Street to offer free meals to children over half-term

A statement from Southampton’s award-winning Kuti’s Brasserie said: “Following the Government’s decision not to extend the meal voucher scheme during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history, Kuti’s Brasserie will be offering free hot meals to any child from 12-2.30pm, to support our community over half term in Southampton.”

Other groups including tea rooms, churches, farms and takeaways, and cash-strapped councils including those in Liverpool and Greater Manchester, and many across London, have joined the fray.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford said he was “blown away” by an outpouring of support for his child food poverty campaign from cafes and restaurant owners offering free meals for children.

He tweeted: “Blown away by news of local businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half term. Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know.”

The striker’s campaign has seen businesses around the country offering local children free lunches during the week-long half term.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s has pledged a million meals, which will be distributed via FairShare, while other smaller firms also got involved.

“We’re behind Marcus Rashford,” said Baker’s cafe in Bolton. “No parent should ever struggle to feed their children.”

Pearson’s Bar in Hull added “The Government’s decision not to offer free school meals during holidays at a time like this is quite frankly heart-breaking.”

The Riddling Rack restaurant in St Helen’s said: “We stand with Marcus Rashford.”

The Manchester United and England star shared dozens of the offers from small businesses stepping up to help struggling families, prompting widespread gratitude around the country.

Conservative MPs also praised their local authorities for acting.

Conservative MP Jane Stevenson, who represents Wolverhampton North East, said she was “delighted” that the Midlands council was funding the school meals.

“Nobody voted against children having food security,” she tweeted. “The vote this week was about local authorities being best placed to identify and get help to the most needy. The Government sent £6.1 million of extra funding to Wolverhampton this week to achieve this.”

Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, said the Government should have led a national approach, adding: “It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this.”

Asked if the Government should have to fund half-term meals, he said: “I think – at the last minute – you probably do have to fund it, is the answer to that.”

But Downing Street declined to offer any praise four times during a briefing with journalists.

Asked if the Prime Minister welcomed these acts of philanthropy, his deputy official spokesman said: “We have set out our position a number of times. There is no change.”

Pressed again, he said: “We are in a different position now with schools back open, but we have done a lot to make sure the most vulnerable in our society are protected.”

Asked if Boris Johnson would applaud businesses offering free food to hungry children, or if he thought it was “unnecessary”, he replied: “You’ve had my answer on this. We have been clear of our position.”

Questioned once more he said: “The Prime Minister has answered this question himself on Wednesday. You’ve got his words from Wednesday.”

Steve Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the situation would be kept under review, but stressed that he did not believe free school meals were the right way of “getting support to families”. 

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