The UK's largest food charity has told ITV News more vulnerable children could go hungry this summer, as it warns charities will need 40% more food to meet demand.
Since lockdown began, the number of frontline organisations applying to receive food from FareShare has tripled, with the charity now delivering 30% more food than before the Covid-crisis - enough to make more than one million meals a week.
But the charity, which is supported by England footballer Marcus Rashford, is warning that even with the government’s free school meal voucher scheme they are struggling to meet “hugely increasing demand”, and say that if it is scrapped, more children than ever “will face hunger and malnutrition in July and August".
“Our network of charities are just about coping with hugely increased demand – and that’s with families receiving vouchers to cover the cost of meals during term-time,” said FareShare CEO, Lindsay Boswell.
“When that support is taken away, and with fewer holiday schemes operating around the country, more children could face the very real prospect of going hungry over the summer months.”
Some 1.3 million children are eligible for free school meals during term-time, but most rely on charities for food in the summer holidays.
FareShare, which last year provided meals to over 43,000 vulnerable children, says coronavirus has made the situation worse - with many families being pushed into financial hardship and a further 1.4 million families applying for Universal Credit.
Footballer Rashford has helped raise £20 million for the charity, and has written an open letter asking the government to reverse its decision to end the scheme.
The 22-year-old has followed up with a column in The Times newspaper on Tuesday, writing he was focusing "on a trophy that stands for something bigger than football".
Addressing the meal voucher issue and the broader subject of childhood poverty, Rashford wrote: “I don’t claim to have the education of an MP in Parliament, but I do have a social education.
“I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because ten years ago I was one of them.”
While a Department for Education spokesperson has said the national voucher scheme “will not run during the summer holidays”, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson says the Prime Minister will respond to Mr Rashford’s letter “as soon as he can”.
It comes as a legal challenge on the government's decision not to continue the vouchers over the summer was launched by two charities.
Sustain and the Good Law Project have also written to England's Department of Education, calling the government's plans “inadequate” and warning hundreds of thousands of children will go hungry.
They argue the government's other programme - the Holiday Activities and Food scheme - will only reach around 50,000 children in 17 of the 343 local authorities in England, less than four percent of those eligible for free school meals.
“The bleak reality is that unless the government produces an adequate plan, and fast, hundreds of thousands of children across England will go hungry this summer," Good Law Project Director Jolyon Morgan wrote.
He continued: "Good Law Project and Sustain are committed to continuing our legal challenge to ensure that does not happen."
CEO of Sustain, Kath Dalmeny added: “The money released represents just a few more crumbs from the table, with no serious assessment of need...the govt must provide adequate and ring-fenced money, via trusted institutions...to guarantee that children will be able to eat well.”