THE council will offer thousands of children free school meals during this week's half-term holiday, it has said.

Council leader Councillor David Molyneux said the local authority wanted to ensure families would receive the additional support during what is a challenging time.

The move follows a Labour Party motion calling for government to provide free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021 on the back of Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford's campaign being voted down in the House of Commons last week.

Leigh MP James Grundy was among the Conservative MPs who voted against the motion which sparked an intense political row.

On the free school meals initiative, council leader Cllr Molyneux said: “This is the right thing to do. Thousands of young children and families across our borough rely on free school meals and this means they will not go hungry over the school holidays.

“We acknowledge that families are facing unprecedented challenges at the moment and this decision will ease some of the burden.”

The vouchers for £15 per child per week are available for children aged four and upward who attend schools in the borough.

Around 10,500 children are eligible for free school meals across the borough.

Eligible families will be contacted directly, the council says.

It follows on from thousands of children receiving school uniform vouchers earlier this year, as the council utilised emergency grant funding.

Cllr Molyneux added: “We are aware that many businesses and organisations across the borough had started their own campaigns in the last few days to help out children eligible for free school meals over this October half-term.

“It is that sense of community spirit that typifies our borough and we would like to thank them for their efforts.

“It would be fantastic to see families use their vouchers to support local businesses and food pantries – in line with our Community Wealth Building principles.”

After last week's vote in Parliament, Leigh MP James Grundy said there are "better ways to address the issue of child poverty" and that "the education budget must be used for educational purposes".

He said: "It is my view that the education budget must be used for educational purposes. Hard pressed schools should not be made to bear the burden of what is effectively a welfare issue."