MANCHESTER United footballer Marcus Rashford has thanked Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams for her part in raising awareness of and attempting to abolish child poverty in the UK.

The 22-year-old United and England forward is known for his work with his feet but it with his voice that he has made a huge impact on the UK in 2020 – and especially during the coronavirus pandemic – by using his platform to become an activist on the issue of child food poverty. His work led to him being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last week.

His fight has only highlighted the seriousness of the issue of child poverty in Britain, which is not going away any time soon, but Rashford has vowed that neither is he.

And while the UK Government so far refuse to back Rashford’s calls to subsidise children's meals outside term time, the Red Devils striker has praised Ms Williams after she announced on Thursday that the Welsh Government has guaranteed free school meal provision for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021, worth £11 million.

Rashford said he welcomed the Welsh Government's “swift response to this urgent need in protecting the most vulnerable children across the country”.

Rashford said: “Holiday provision is vital to stabilising households during the school closures, given the devastating effects of Covid-19.

“Having this framework in place for the foreseeable future will have a significantly positive impact on children who are struggling to engage in learning due to anxiety and fear, not to mention the noise of their rumbling stomachs.

“No child in 2020 should be sat in a classroom worried about how they are going to access food during the holidays, and the impact that will have on their parents when matched with unemployment, ill health and, in some cases, personal loss.

“There is still so much more work to be done to protect this next generation but I welcome the Welsh Government's swift response to this urgent need in protecting the most vulnerable children across the country. Our children and their welfare should never not be the priority.”

Making the announcement ahead of the October half term through a video released on her Twitter channel, Ms Williams said she hoped the confirmation would provide reassurance in these times of uncertainty.

“We have worked tirelessly this year to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the countless challenges it has presented but we have not, and will not, forget those for who school is about far more than education,” she said.

The education minister – a former Brecon and Radnorshire MP – tweeted her thanks to Rashford for spreading the news, to which he in turn replied “thank you” and posted a Welsh flag emoji.

While Westminster has dragged its heels over the issue – only announcing a change in policy regarding the extension of free school meals for children during the summer holidays the day after the United player wrote them an open letter in June – ensuring the continuation of free school meal provision has been a key priority for the Welsh Government.

It had already allocated £41.7m before Thursday’s announcement, bringing the total now to £52.7m.

When Welsh schools were initially closed on Wednesday, March 18, Ms Williams confirmed £7m would be made available to local authorities to put in place measures to ensure children eligible for free school meals would continue to benefit.

Then, in April, Wales became the first country in the UK to guarantee ongoing funding for children to continue to benefit from free school meal provision up to and including the end of the summer holidays.

An online petition set up this week by Rashford, calling for an end to child food poverty, has attracted more than 200,000 signatures, and he has been backed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who on Friday urged Boris Johnson to provide 1.5 million children with free meals during the half-term and Christmas holidays. It says free school meals should be given to all under-16s in England whose parent or guardian receives Universal Credit.

In response a UK Government spokesperson said: “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 responded to the news by tweeting: “Merry Christmas kids. It’s also not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising. This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I.”

Ms Williams’ office were contacted for comment and while there has been no direct contact with Rashford, they said they would not rule out collaborating with the Wythanshawe-born player in the future over tackling child poverty.