Marcus Rashford has called on the government to reverse the decision not to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer. He says “the system isn’t built for families like mine to succeed”.
The Manchester United forward has raised about £20m to supply three million meals to vulnerable people while still working with charity FareShare UK during the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaigners have threatened to bring legal action against the government for not extending the food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.
In an emotional open letter to MPs drawing on his experience of relying on free school meals and food banks while growing up, Rashford said his story is “all too familiar for families in England”.
“It’s not about politics, it’s bout humanity”
In the letter, the 22-year-old Rashford wrote, “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”.
Rashford added his plea for the government to “make the U-turn and make protecting lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority”.
The forward added it was about “looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves”.
The Education Department
The Department for Education confirmed the scheme would not run during summer holidays: “As schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school. Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.
The spokesperson also pointed to the new £63m local authority welfare assistance scheme to support the most vulnerable families, and its Holiday Activities and Food program, which offers activities and free meals in the summer holidays.
Families claiming free school meals have been issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card – worth £15 per child, per week – to spend at supermarkets, while schools have been closed.
Rashford wrote: “Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to be hungry?”
The United youth-team graduate, who is one of five children, added: “As a black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic.
“Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbors, and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances, and caps.
“I would be doing myself, my family, and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”
Around 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals and a survey by the Food Foundation in May said that more than 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family could not access enough food during lockdown.
“Ten years ago, I would have been one of those children, and you would never have heard my voice and seen my determination to become part of the solution,” said Rashford.
“Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don’t course-correct now.”
Rashford stated that the government’s Universal Credit benefit system “is simply not a short-term solution” to the issue of food poverty, because “I am fully aware that the majority of families applying are experiencing five-week delays”.
He is concerned that child poverty is “only going to get worse” when the government’s furlough scheme ends.
Rashford added that with many children still not able to return to school and have more of their nutritional needs met “we’re encouraging this cycle of hardship to continue”.