A PLEA by England footballer Marcus Rashford MBE to the Government to provide free school meals during all school holidays to end food poverty has been rejected by Downing Street.

Rashford, of Manchester United, started the petition urging the Government to go further in tackling child hunger, which hit 100,000 signatures just 10 hours after it was launched.

The petition – which calls for food to be provided during all holidays and for free school meals to be expanded to all households on Universal Credit – will now be considered for debate by MPs after securing the signatures.

The Welsh Government has decided to provide free school meals during the school holidays until Easter next year.

But Downing Street indicated on Thursday that ministers would not provide free school meals to children in England during the Christmas break.

A No 10 spokesman said: “We took that decision to extend free school meals during the pandemic when schools were partially closed during lockdown. We’re in a different position now with schools back open to all pupils.

“It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays.

“We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through Universal Credit rather than Government subsidising meals.”

Rashford, who forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays, has hit back at the comments.

The Manchester United footballer, who just last week was made an MBE for his services to vulnerable children, said: “Merry Christmas kids…

“It’s also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250 per cent increase in food poverty and rising…

“This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I…”

Senior Tory MP Rob Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said on Twitter: “This is very disappointing from BorisJohnson and Downing Street.

“We need a long-term plan to combat child food hunger, especially given 32 per cent of families have had a drop in income since March.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, added: “The Government’s response is out of touch with public opinion and with the real-life hardships that many families are facing.

“We are not in normal times. Normal solutions like Universal Credit may not be enough.

“Without doubt, the disruption to people’s livelihoods as a result of Covid will mean that even more children are plunged into poverty.

“Back in the spring, shamefully, the Government had to be compelled to increase support for these children and their families. As the pandemic continues into the winter and next year, more support will be needed.”