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Marcus Rashford: ‘We all have a duty to protect our vulnerable’

The Manchester United ace and social justice warrior revealed an injury combined with the pandemic offered him the opportunity to join the fight against child food poverty
Image credit: Suki Dhanda / Guardian / eyevine

It’s been a busy year for Marcus Rashford. Not satisfied with just being one of the most exciting footballers to wear the Manchester United and England shirt in recent years, the 23-year-old went looking for bigger opponents than he could find on the pitch. Boy did he find them.

In an exclusive interview in this week’s Big Issue magazine, Rashford discussed his campaign to end food poverty, conversations with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his proudest moment and his “big” plans for 2021.

But back in March, as the country went in lockdown, he couldn’t take his mind off the effects on thousands of the country’s poorest children.

Having experienced food poverty as a kid, he said he knew many children would be at risk of going to bed hungry as schools closed over lockdown and said he had to raise awareness. 

“When hearing about the possible school closures, my attention immediately turned to those children most vulnerable,” he said. “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.”

So he started working with charity FareShare in March. By June he had helped to raise £20 million for vulnerable youngsters and forced a Government U-turn to provide free school meal vouchers over the summer holiday.

In September, he launched the Child Food Poverty Task Force and by October he had accepted an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

The task force brought together academics and giants of industry with specific, research-backed asks: expand free school meals to every household on Universal Credit, expand holiday provision, increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers and give them to more people. 

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

Rashford said seeing the country come together over the October half-term holidays was probably his proudest moment. Over 1,000 businesses said they would provide food for children after MPs rejected his plea for free school meals to be extended. 

“At a time when we were appearing to be somewhat divided, everything was put aside to come together to protect our most vulnerable children,” he told the Big Issue.

“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.” 

And it showed it’s not just millionaire athletes who can contribute. Anybody could play a role in combatting child food poverty, he said, even through something 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,” he said. 

“So, I would turn off the judgments and the stigmas, and encourage people to be more understanding and more compassionate towards others.” 

Rashford teased 2021 would be a “big year” in the fight against child food poverty and sent words of encouragement to those who had been through it during the pandemic, including many Big Issue vendors who have been off the streets for months. 

“It will get better. It will get easier,” he said. 

“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.”

Read more about Marcus Rashford’s incredible year, his conversation with Boris Johnson and his plans for the future in this week’s Big Issue, available through our online shop and from your local vendor now