CAMPAIGNING by England footballer Marcus Rashford led to almost £1 million being spent on supporting vulnerable families in Northumberland over February half term and the Easter holidays.

Earlier this year, the Three Lions and Manchester United striker was at the forefront of efforts to force the Government to boost funding for youngsters who faced going hungry. And as a result, more than 17,900 vouchers were handed out for food, with further payments on offer to help households with heating and other utility bills.

School closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic prompted fears over how pupils from some of the poorest households would cope without access to their usual free school meal provision. But new figures have revealed support worth a combined total of £815,565 was handed over during February half term and Easter breaks.

The extent of help provided has been laid out in a report due to be discussed by Northumberland County Council’s families and children’s services scrutiny Committee when it meets today.

More than half of the council’s funding, worth £445,755, went towards free school meal vouchers issued by schools, with £263,295 of this handed out during the Easter holidays.

Across both school breaks, a further 5,986 food parcels or vouchers were handed out by schools through existing arrangements to the tune of more than £200,000. A total of £144,975 was also paid out to support parents and carers with increased utility bills.

As well as direct efforts to combat holiday hunger among children with financial aid, a series of events were also offered across the county during the Easter holidays through the Holiday Activity Fund. This provided spaces for almost 1,500 youngsters in Northumberland - the majority of which were taken up by children who qualified for free school meals.

Of the £992,000 allocated to the local authority through the Government’s Winter COVID support grant, at least £815,565 has been spent.

Council staff are still working on final figures, with any cash remaining expected to be returned to ministers.