Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has called on the UK government to perform a U-turn on a decision not to extend a scheme providing free meals to children whose families cannot otherwise afford to sufficiently feed them without much-needed assistance.
During school terms, struggling families can claim free meals to ensure that their children are fed during the day. For many, it might be the only chance each day a child gets to eat a proper meal.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic as job losses strike will only make it harder and harder for people to feed their children, but the government has opted not to extend the school food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period.
Rashford, who has already worked with food distribution charity FareShare to raise an enormous £20m to cover a shortfall while schools were closed, has urged the government to rethink in a compelling letter addressed to ‘all MPs in parliament’.
The 22-year-old United recalled some of his own memories of growing up and his family’s need for support from schemes like breakfast clubs and free school meals, as well as the kind help of neighbours and coaches, regardless of how hard his mum worked.
“My mum worked full-time, earning the minimum wage, to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table, but it was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked,” he wrote.
“Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us,” Rashford continued, adding that he still vividly remembers the trip to collect Christmas dinner each year.
It is estimated that around 200,000 children had had to skip meals because their families have struggled to access food during the coronavirus lockdown. Rashford explains that he would have been among those children 10 years ago.
Families claiming free school meals have been able to claim vouchers worth £15 per child per week while schools have been closed, but Rashford went on to explain that around a quarter of the 1.3m children registered for free school meals have had no support since schools were closed.
In 2018/19, figures revealed that an average of nine children in every classroom of 30 was living in poverty, with that number expected to rise by one million in total by 2022. In England right now, an estimated 45% of all children from black and ethnic minority groups are living in poverty.
“This is not about politics; this is about humanity,” he stressed. “Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”
Rashford is calling on government to extend the same ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy to “...protecting all vulnerable children across England. I encourage you to hear their please and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“Make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of out most vulnerable a top priority.”
In a follow up BBC interview, Rashford said of the letter, “It's written from the heart and it's about how my life was at the moment - the letter is to open up and let people understand the impact on families and to know I've done the right thing.
“What families are going through now, I've once had to go through that - and it's very difficult to find a way out. It's very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn't change - that's why I wrote it.”