Hundreds of people across south Essex have signed a petition spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford to tackle child food poverty.

The Manchester United and England star, who was awarded an MBE last week, kicked off his campaign by saying “we must act with urgency” to make sure no child worries about what they are going to eat.

The petition calls for free school meals to be extended to every child from a household on Universal Credit or an equivalent benefit.

Across south Essex, more than 10,000 children were eligible for free schools meals in the last school year, the latest Department for Education figures show.

More than 210 people in Southend, 266 in Basildon and 64 in Castle Point have signed the petition urging the Government to take action.

A government-commissioned report published earlier this year said expanding the scheme in this way could reach an additional 1.5 million seven to 16-year-olds across England.

The petition also calls for free meals to be provided throughout holidays, as well as during term time.

Mark Flewitt, deputy mayor said: “It is very heartening that Southend residents are backing this and I believe it should be extended.

“While this is a great cause we must look at it in the context of the Government having spent so much money already.

“In an ideal world the Government would just say yes but we will be in so much debt with the issues around the coronavirus.

“I hope Marcus Rashford continues to push for this as it’s a good cause but we but we must look at with the context of what’s going on.”

Marcus Rashford forced the Government into a U-turn over holiday food vouchers during the pandemic earlier this year.

The England star said: “Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of Covid-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children.”

bas 266 people in Basildon’s three constituencies

64 people in Castle Point’s constituency had signed the petition urging the Government to take action.