Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford calls for food voucher scheme u-turn

The England footballer has been at the forefront of the fight to end food poverty throughout lockdown

Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford has penned a passionate letter to MPs asking them to fund the free school voucher scheme over summer to stop kids going hungry.

Rashford, 22, has switched from Manchester United’s frontlines to leading the charge in the battle against food poverty. He has backed Fareshare’s fundraising campaign while he and his fellow professional footballers have been sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Campaigners Sustain and the Good Law Project have threatened the Government with a legal challenge over the £15-a-week-per-child voucher scheme, such is the concern for the 1.3 million children who are registered for free school meals who are at risk of starving over the summer.

And Rashford has added more weight to the calls for a u-turn, suggesting that kids may not “be proud enough” of their country to follow in his footsteps pulling on the England national team shirt one day and singing the national anthem if they are not given adequate support.

Rashford’s own upbringing in Wythenshawe, Manchester, has inspired his plea to ministers. In his letter he tells of how his mum worked full-time on minimum wage but still struggled to put food on the table. Despite the millions he earns as a footballer, he is no stranger to relying on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches.

He said: “Foodbanks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year. It’s only now that I really understand the enormous sacrifice my mum made in sending me away to live in digs aged 11, a decision no mother would ever make lightly.”

Rashford would have been turning out for the England national team at Euro 2020 had it not been postponed due to Covid-19, set to put on his boots for the first time in months this weekend.

But in the time away from Old Trafford, he has used his profile to give the ongoing battle to prevent food poverty a much-needed boost. His letter, at the time of writing, has amassed more than 40,000 retweets and 110,000 likes on Twitter.

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And he warns that unless action is taken now, future generations will be feeling the effects of food poverty long after the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “This is not about politics; this is about humanity. 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. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?

“Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don’t course correct now. Whilst 1.3 million children in England are registered for free school meals, one quarter of these children have not been given any support since the school closures were ordered.

Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don’t course correct now

“We rely on parents, many of whom have seen their jobs evaporate due to Covid-19, to play substitute teacher during lockdown, hoping that their children are going to be focused enough to learn, with only a small percentage of their nutritional needs met during this period.

“This is a system failure and without education we’re encouraging this cycle of hardship to continue.”

Rashford isn’t the only Manchester United footballer who has done his bit to feed people going hungry during lockdown – Harry Maguire funded food packages for elderly people going hungry in his hometown of Mosborough.

And campaigners Human Rights Watch have warned that the Government’s approach to keeping children fed has “violated their right to food” after the electronic system has been beset with problems over the last few months.

The Department for Education confirmed that there are no plans to reverse their decision. A spokesperson said: “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 Big Issue knows all too well the impact of food poverty over the summer months. We spent months investigating holiday hunger last year. Read everything from that investigation here.

Image: Sky Sports