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Media captionMan Utd’s Rashford speaks about mother’s sacrifices in his bid to end food poverty

About 1.3 million children will get free school meal vouchers during the holidays, following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

The government promised eligible children a six-week voucher and welcomed Mr Rashford’s “contribution to the debate around poverty”.

The Manchester United forward, 22, praised the move, saying: “Just look at what we can do when we come together.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the move was a “welcome U-turn”.

All children eligible for free school meals in term time in England will benefit from the “Covid summer food fund”, Downing Street said.

The support works out as about £15 a week per recipient, and will cost about £120m.

In an emotional open letter to MPs posted on Monday, the Manchester United forward drew on his own experience of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up.

The footballer had asked others to think about struggling parents who have had their “water turned off” during the coronavirus lockdown, and whose children have gone hungry.

Families whose children qualify for free meals have received vouchers or parcels in lockdown.

While provision was already arranged to continue through the summer in Scotland and Wales, it was going to end in England at the end of term.

Almost 1.3 million school children in England – accounting for 15.4% of state-educated pupils – were eligible for and claiming free school meals according to the latest available data.

Official figures for 2019 showed the need was greatest in parts of London, the north and Midlands where between a quarter and a third of all pupils were getting the free meals.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters the extended scheme was “a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic”.

Referring to Mr Rashford, he added: “The PM welcomes his contribution to the debate around poverty and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a leading sportsman to highlight important issues.”

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