A UK minister has come under fire after delivering a blunt response to Man Utd footballer Marcus Rashford’s plea to the government – that was duly acted on – to reverse a decision to stop giving free school meals to poor kids.
The 22-year-old English Premier League striker has been a notable critic of the UK government’s decision to halt its £15-a-week free meal vouchers for children over the summer holidays. On Tuesday Rashford tweeted a thread, asking the British public to imagine being in the shoes of a family struggling to make ends meet during the Covid-19 lockdown.
In the first of four tweets he asked people to “take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown.” It prompted the UK Work and Pensions Secretary – Therese Coffey – to harshly reply: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”
Rashford – who has gained much publicity with his campaign – hit back at the minister, saying that he was “concerned” this was the only response she had given in acknowledgement of his tweets on the risk of children going hungry, and called on Coffey to “put rivalries aside.”
Water cannot be disconnected though
— Therese Coffey #ProtectEachOtherSaveLives (@theresecoffey) June 16, 2020
Rashford’s campaign ultimately proved successful – with the UK government making a dramatic U-turn on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the footballer’s altercation with Coffey. Explaining the change of heart, PM Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said: “Owing to the corona pandemic, the PM fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer.”
Coffey’s flippant reply to Rashford provoked a flurry of angry responses on social media with some people accusing the minister of “tone deafness,” and described her tweet as “Sneering, smug and vulgar.”
Former BBC journalist Ben Smith suggested the Tory minister was “detached from reality,” insisting that she should be “ashamed” of her comments that were “Dismissive, flippant, arrogant.”
Others took issue at her focus on how households will never be in a position whereby they will have their water supply cut off, with one commenter sarcastically joking: Can children eat water?
Coffey did reply rather belatedly to Rashford, with a more substantive response about what the government was doing to help struggling families during the pandemic, but was also given short shrift by her critics.
Reacting to the government’s reversal on free school meals for 1.3m vulnerable children, Rashford tweeted: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
Johnson’s administration had justified their refusal to back down by insisting that it was normal for the food voucher scheme to stop during summer holidays, but critics insisted that the country wasn’t living in “normal” times amid the coronavirus crisis, which has seen many people lose their jobs.
Both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments plan to keep the provisions of school meal vouchers throughout the vacation period, while Northern Ireland says it will be stopped.
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