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Marcus Rashford: ‘Everybody can play a role in combatting child food poverty’

This year, Marcus Rashford changed government policy and helped thousands of the poorest children in Britain to eat. In an exclusive interview with The Big Issue he reveals more is to come
Image credit: Suki Dhanda / Guardian / eyevine

Among all the unexpected twists and turns of 2020, no one could have guessed that 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford would become our greatest social justice warrior and anti-poverty campaigner.

Harnessing the positive (for a change) power of social media, Rashford has done what nobody else has managed: shone a light on those who were already trapped in poverty and found themselves hit hardest by the economic carnage Covid leaves in its wake.

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In fact, Rashford has become such a strong voice for social justice that it’s easy to forget that he is also one of the world’s highest-profile footballers. He took time out while travelling to Leipzig for Manchester United’s ill-fated Champions League match to tell us about his incredible year and his plans for the future.

The Big Issue: Marcus, let’s look back over your incredible year. You’ve clearly been socially aware for a long time and keen to make the world better. Did you have plans in place last year to deal with food poverty?

Marcus Rashford: Not specifically, I always knew that I would one day have a platform to help children just like me and an injury combined with a global pandemic just offered me the opportunity to look into it further.

When hearing about the possible school closures, my attention immediately turned to those children most vulnerable – without school, I had no breakfast club, free school meal or after-school club. I needed to bring attention to the fact that these children would be without vital food resources as long as the schools were closed.

Of all the things you’ve achieved this year, what has brought you the most pride?

Seeing the country come together over the October half-term holidays was probably my proudest moment.

At a time when we were appearing to be somewhat divided, everything was put aside to come together to protect our most vulnerable children. Small businesses who had not earned a penny this year reopened their kitchens knowing they would be running at an even greater loss. Football put rivalry aside, people opened up their arms and welcomed people in. It was really touching.

Can you talk us through your conversation with the Prime Minister? Was he apologetic, did he make clear promises? Did he offer you a role as special advisor?

We came off the call both agreeing that collaboration was the most effective way of working moving forward. We had a really good in-depth conversation and the Prime Minister agreed to meet with the Child Food Poverty Task Force which is a great step forward in combatting child food poverty in the UK once and for all.

There is something of a tradition at Manchester United of helping those on the margins of society. Is this something that is discussed among the players? And what do your team-mates make of what you’ve done?

Well typically I use football as an escape, so within the changing room and training environment it’s all football, football, football. That being said, the boys have all been very supportive and they have shown interest in finding out more about the issue, which is great.

You’ve changed Britain more positively than any politician, and more than most civic leaders, this year. What are your next steps?

Everybody can play a role in combatting child food poverty in the UK and your role can be as small as a kind word or gesture. It’s only togetherness and unity that is going to guarantee sustainable long-term change.

We all have a responsibility to protect our vulnerable as it could be any one of us – if 2020 has taught us anything it should be that.

So, I would turn off the judgments and the stigmas, and encourage people to be more understanding and more compassionate towards others. 2021 is a big year and I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Finally, The Big Issue vendors have been through a lot this year. Two lockdowns, and very difficult to makes sales due to fewer people on the street. Do you have a message of encouragement for them and the work they do?

It will get better. It will get easier. I read something on Instagram the other day that said ‘This year I made you strong. Next year I will make you happy’.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we have learned about ourselves and others this year, and how we want to continue our lives going into 2021. However big or small, we all play a role in society, and our voices matter. Find your strength and live for today.