Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has won his battle to make the Government extend their free school meal voucher scheme.
Yesterday Rashford pushed food poverty to the top of the news agenda with an honest, emotional letter to MPs that discussed his own upbringing in poverty and asked the Government to reconsider their stance on funding free school meal vouchers for kids over the summer holidays.
4. Recognise children around the country are this morning innocently questioning ‘why?’
9 out of 30 children in any given classroom are today asking ‘why?’
‘Why does our future not matter?’ #maketheuturn
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 16, 2020
Around 1.3 million schoolkids are eligible for the vouchers and, as Rashford has told MPs, 200,000 children have already had to skip meals during the lockdown due to poverty, according to Food Foundation figures.
The Government will now spend £120 million to keep the voucher scheme going over the summer holidays, they have confirmed. Eligible kids will receive a six-week voucher working out at £15-a-week per recipient off the back of the incredible campaigning work by the England footballer.
Rashford has been campaigning against food poverty throughout the lockdown, acting as the face of food distribution charity Fareshare in recent weeks, and he did not stop at the letter yesterday.
He continued to call on the Government to u-turn on their decision and united campaigners to his cause as well as celebrities like Gary Lineker and Jamie Oliver.
.@MarcusRashford is right! Help #maketheuturn for #FreeSchoolMeals
The pressure is really building now @BorisJohnson @GavinWilliamson @RishiSunak!! Sign this petition led by 16 year old Christina Adane from @BiteBack2030 https://t.co/d0KalD5Txp to show your support https://t.co/6XChdaM1RR
— Jamie Oliver (@jamieoliver) June 16, 2020
Rashford also inspired Co-op to offer 6,000 kids gift cards to use in their stores in a bid to help parents put food on the table.
In response to the news, Rashford said: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
Before the announcement, Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey took a more direct approach and responded to Rashford on social media as the pressure on the Government to act continues to grow.
She initially faced a social media backlash for a short tweet in which she pointed out: “Water cannot be disconnected though”. Rashford replied: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged” before Coffey gave a fuller response.
Water cannot be disconnected though
— Therese Coffey #ProtectEachOtherSaveLives (@theresecoffey) June 16, 2020
Coffey said: “I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share. We are working to the same aim. I & this Government will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond.
“We supported people renting and ensure they cannot be evicted & intervened with electricity suppliers on bills. We have kept schools open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We will continue to support the economy and help all of us get through this.”
While the Government doesn’t normally provide food vouchers for children over the summer holidays, the issue of holiday hunger has tested parents’ finances for many years as they are required to cover an extra meal while their kids are off school.
The Big Issue investigated holiday hunger last year to highlight the difficult position that parents can find themselves in during what should be a happy and relaxing family time.
The devastating economic impact of Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem and that is why Rashford and his growing number of supporters urged the Government to act to stop kids going hungry this summer.