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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Chris Bas­combe

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’

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