Rashford tells Johnson to end child food poverty or risk ‘stability’ of nation
Striker launches task force with backing of supermarkets Letter to PM outlines strategy for free school meals expansion
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has told Prime Minister Boris Johnson he risks “the stability of the country” unless he takes further action on child food poverty.
Having successfully lobbied for the extension of free school meals for underprivileged pupils throughout the school holiday, Rashford’s campaign has accelerated with the formation of the Child Food Poverty Task Force, alongside 12 of the country’s leading supermarket chains and brands.
The 22-year-old has written a powerful and passionate letter to the Prime Minister and each MP in which he gives three recommendations for the national food strategy.
His letter is endorsed by the chief executives of Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Co-op, Asda, FareShare, Food Foundation, Lidl, Iceland, Aldi, Deliveroo and Kellogg’s, all of whom have joined the task force.
“The food industry will be standing side by side to shed light on the issue of child food poverty in the UK, an issue far greater than any one brand, person or supermarket,” Rashford writes in his letter.
The task force is calling for the expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5 million seven-to-16-year-olds; expansion of holiday provision (food and activities) to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1 million children; and increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week (from £3.10) and expanding into all those on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of four.
Rashford secured a major victory when forcing the Government into an about-turn following an initial decision to scrap free school meal vouchers during the summer. He says that represented a short-term measure, and with pupils across the country returning to classes this week, now is the time to step up the campaign.
“I have been lucky enough to spend time with families who have benefited significantly from the extended food voucher scheme,” Rashford says. “I have sat with parents who have cried with sheer relief that putting food on their children’s plates was one less thing to worry about this summer.
“However, as summer and the voucher scheme comes to an end and we face increased unemployment, we have to work towards implementing a sustainable longterm framework to protect children most at risk from food poverty.
“I spoke to a mother recently who, along with her two young sons, is currently living off three slices of bread a day, soaking them in hot water and adding sugar, hoping that the porridge consistency might better sustain the hunger of her one-year-old child.
“I spoke to a family who were sleeping on one mattress on the floor, the reason being – just like any good parent would – they had no choice but to sell every valuable they owned to put food on the table.
“All of this, a result of unforeseen circumstances that are entirely out of their control, such as redundancy and illness. This is the true reality of England in 2020.”
Rashford says there is a link between the desperation of families to put food on the table and individuals taking more extreme measures to feed themselves and their loved ones when they feel helpless.
“Within two days of sitting with these families, I could better understand how food poverty is contributing to social unrest,” Rashford says. “Watching a young boy keeping it together whilst his mother sobbed alongside him, feeling like he has to step up to protect his family and alleviate some of that worry. He was nine years old.
“I know that feeling. I remember the sound of my mum crying herself to sleep to this day, having worked a 14-hour shift, unsure how she was going to make ends meet. That was my reality and thankfully I had the talent to kick a ball around to pull us all out of that situation. Many can’t find that way out and aren’t being offered a helping hand to do so.
“Those most at risk aren’t in a position and don’t have the platform to scream help from the top of the rooftops but, for those ready to speak, my intention is to offer them the platform to do so, and for those who aren’t, I will continue to be their voice and act on their behalf.
“When we pause, listen and reflect on what the future of our next generation could look like, it’s easy to see that if we don’t take action quickly the issue of child food poverty will have devastating effects on the stability of our country. These children are the future – our next generation of NHS workers, police officers, footballers and politicians. Allow our children to believe that, regardless of the cycle, they can be anything they put their mind to.”
‘I spoke to a mother who, with her two young sons, is living off three slices of bread a day’