Marcus Rashford has succeeded in his campaign to protect food vouchers for the UK’s poorest children.ritish football star
The 22-year-old Manchester United and England forward campaigned for 1.3 million children in England to claim free school meal vouchers in the summer holidays. The government had said it would not provide the £15 vouchers for that six-week period.
Just yesterday Mr Rashford condemned politicians over child hunger in an open letter, saying, “This is not about politics, it’s about humanity… can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”
Wembley football stadium could be filled more than twice by the number of children who’ve gone hungry during Covid-19 lockdown in the UK, he wrote. 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family could not access food.
Mr Rashford partnered with food distribution charity FareShare to help cover the cost of some of the free school meals deficit that’s arisen since schools closed in Covid-19 lockdown.
Describing a food pandemic in the UK, he explained that almost one third (9 out of every 30) of children were living in poverty last year – but that figure would rise by an extra one million by 2022. In England, 45% of children in black and ethnic minority families are now in poverty.
The footballer described the poverty trap of his own childhood, saying, “My mum worked fulltime, earning a minimum wage… but it was not enough… The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.
“We are talking about parents who work every hour of the day for minimum wage”
“As a family we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us. I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year. “
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the government says it expects schools to continue to support eligible children in term time. This provision included the Easter and May half-term holidays, but the voucher scheme was not going to run during the summer holidays.
Mr Rashford wrote yesterday, “Some have placed blame on parents for having children they couldn’t afford… I have friends who are from middle class backgrounds who have never experienced a small percentage of the love I have gotten from my Mum. These are the parents we are talking about… who work every hour of the day for minimum wage, most of them working in hospitality… which has been locked down for months.
“… Men, women, caregivers are calling out for help and we aren’t listening… I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t… ask you for help.”
Mr Rashford invited people to record a short video about the impact the end of the voucher scheme would have, asking them to email the clips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Replies came not only from parents, but headteachers personally covering the cost of food packages for vulnerable families.
The full letter, which can be found here on Twitter, threw a spotlight on a problem largely overlooked, despite the United Nations’ work on poverty in the UK.
In May last year a report by UN Special Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston said the UK’s social safety net had been “deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”.
The special rapporteur on extreme poverty said ideological cuts to public services since 2010 had led to tragic consequences. It cited independent experts saying 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty. In 2017, 1.5 million people experienced destitution.
Mr Alston said his UN report, “UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available.”