Thousands of people across Cumbria have backed footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition to end child poverty.

The Manchester United and England player launched the parliamentary petition last week calling for free school meals to be provided during holidays and to be expanded to all households on Universal Credit.

It also says the value of Healthy Start vouchers should be increased to at least £4.25 per week with an expansion of the scheme.

In just two days more than 250,000 people across the UK signed the petition – with that figure now standing at nearly 300,000 – and it’s set to be debated by MPs today.

It was signed by 1,027 people in Allerdale, 676 people in Carlisle’s two constituencies and 333 people in Copeland.

Mr Rashford, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children, said on Twitter: “Whilst I don’t agree with another sticking plaster method, these children do need protecting during the upcoming holidays.

“If your MP doesn’t deem providing vulnerable children with vital food resources a priority then you must ask yourself why.”

The footballer’s continued campaigning on child food poverty comes after he forced the Government into a U-turn over holiday food vouchers during the pandemic earlier this year.

The percentage of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals has increased across all schools from 15.4 per cent in 2019 to 17.3 per cent in 2020. This follows a similar increase of 13.6 from 2018 to 2019.

Across England, around 1.4 million children had the right to claim. But the Food Foundation think tank, which is working on the campaign with Rashford, estimated nearly one million additional children have recently been registered for the scheme as Covid-19 drives more families into poverty.

Downing Street seemed to reject the scheme last week, with a Number 10 spokesman saying it was “not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays”.

But the Labour Party has tabled a motion calling on the Government to continue funding free school meals over the school breaks until Easter 2021, with a vote in the Commons scheduled today.

Writing on Twitter, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Over a million children could go hungry over half term and Christmas holidays if free school meals aren’t extended.

“Conservative MPs must listen to campaigners, including Marcus Rashford and vote with Labour tomorrow to extend free schools meals.”

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that research from a holiday club pilot scheme showed parents prefer to pay a “modest amount” for children’s food at a holiday club rather than have the label of a free school meal.

He added: “We’ve put over £9 billion into Universal Credit to help exactly those families that need that help, and we continue with the policy of holiday clubs.”