Boris Johnson pledges ‘no kid will go hungry’ but resists calls for aid

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But he also signalled that ministers could provide more cash in the run-up to Christmas. Speaking at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, where he was launching a review into hospital food with Prue Leith, the television presenter, he said of the issue of feeding hungry kids across the country: “We are focusing on that as we’ve done very, very hard over the past few months.”

He also praised England football star Marcus Rashford for his high-profile campaign, saying: “I totally salute and understand where he’s coming from. This is something we need to focus on, the issue of holiday hunger.”

But Mr Johnson faced more embarrassment as a Government quango backed Mr Rashford.

The Social Mobility Commission said children entitled to free school meals should continue to get food outside term time until COVID restrictions are lifted.

The PM said: “We are going to make sure that we have no kids, no pupils in our country who go hungry this winter, certainly not as a result of Government inattention.

“We have given huge sums to local councils to help them out but also specific sums for helping with meals during what was a very disruptive period.”

He argued that raising Universal Credit benefit payments to hard off households was the best solution.

The Government has increased the benefit by around £1,000 a year for many households during the pandemic, he said, and had also handed £63million to councils to deal with the issue of “holiday hunger”.

He said: “We certainly recognise there is an issue, we have been dealing with it continuously throughout the period of the pandemic and we are going to continue to deal with it…we’re very proud of the support we’ve given.”

He added: “I said repeatedly throughout this crisis that the Government will support people and businesses jobs and livelihood across the country.

“We are going to continue to do that.”

Soon afterwards, the Social Mobility Commission said: “We urge the Government to extend free school meals during school holidays until COVID restrictions are lifted, as part of a wider move to combat child poverty.

“We know that the pandemic is having its greatest impact on the poorest regions in Britain, where people are already struggling to afford food for their families.”

The commission cited research suggesting 600,000 more children were in poverty than in 2012.

It added: “The Government should do all it can to start reversing that trend. It should begin by ensuring that all children are properly fed. But it needs to go much further.”

Up to 100 Tory backbenchers, including former ministers, are threatening to vote against the Government if the free schools meal issue returns to the Commons in the coming weeks.

Some face a voter backlash with one Tory HQ deluged with paper plates in a stunt. But colleagues backed Mr Johnson with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace saying the Government was “incredibly generous”.

He added: “We’ll always look at cases as they come in front of us. We’re not going to sit there in a static environment.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he agreed “very strongly” with “the purpose” of Rashford’s campaign and “we’re putting that investment in”.

But Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Warm words from Boris Johnson will do nothing for the over 1.4 million children at risk of going hungry this half term that he and his MPs refused to help.”

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