Child food poverty is more prevalent in the UK than many people realise.
In March, at the outset of the Coronavirus lockdown, Marcus Rashford, the 23-year-old Manchester United football star, ran a successful Twitter campaign for the government to provide supermarket vouchers in lieu of school meals during the Easter holidays. Then in July, with continuing massive public support, he campaigned again for this benefit to extended to poor families over the May half-term and summer holidays.
The Opposition tried and failed to extend the scheme to the recent October half-term, with 320 Tory MPs voting against the motion on the basis that existing benefits were sufficient. Marcus Rashford stepped in yet again and urged the public to petition the government. Although this failed to change the government’s stance, this sparked a huge community response with individuals, cafes, restaurants and councils around the country devising their own ways to feed hungry children in their communities.
Hammersmith & Fulham council hastily organised and funded their own scheme to provide Tesco vouchers to school children who would otherwise receive free school meals during term time. 25 other London councils did the same, but eight London councils did not.
Finally, on 7 November, Prime Minister Johnson bowed to public pressure and phoned Marcus Rashford to inform him of his change of heart. The government’s new package also includes a £170m Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families in England and an extension of the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter and Christmas breaks next year.
Marcus Rashford received free school meals as a child. Today, he is a football star earning £200,000 per week and an inspiration to many. In his words: “Having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected. These children matter… As long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”