MORE than 500 people in Herefordshire have signed a petition spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford to tackle child food poverty.

The Manchester United and England star kicked off his campaign by saying "we must act with urgency" to make sure no child worries about what they are going to eat.

As of 10am on Sunday, 549 people in Herefordshire’s two parliamentary constituencies had signed the petition urging the Government to take action.

Nationwide, 278,028 people have so far signed the petition.

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

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.

Finally, it says Healthy Start vouchers, given to eligible women who are pregnant or those with young children to buy basic foods, should be raised from £3.10 to £4.25 per week and made available to all those on Universal Credit or a similar benefit.

Across the UK, hundreds of thousands of people have signed the petition since it went live on Thursday morning (October 15).

The campaign is UK-wide but decisions around school meals are devolved. The Welsh Government said just before the petition was launched that it will provide free meals for all school holidays until Easter next year.

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

“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,” said the footballer, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children.

“In 2020, no child in the UK should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day, or how they are going to access food come the holidays.”

The Government appeared to reject the calls for further help, with a spokesman saying: "We are in a different position now with schools back open to all pupils."

In Herefordshire’s constituencies, 2,770 children were eligible for free schools meals in the last school year, the latest Department for Education figures show.

Across England, around 1.4 million children had the right to claim.