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Jamie Oliver: 'Marcus Rashford has done a brilliant job'

In a year when national health has been at the forefront like never before, it begs the question why the UK still relies on celebrity campaigners to 'raise awareness' of issues such as food poverty.

Jamie Oliver at Union Square in 2008. He has been campaigning around child food poverty since 2005. Image: thebeav/Flickr

Jamie Oliver has been campaigning against child food poverty since the release of his 2005 television series Jamie’s School Dinners. But the past year has seen him slowly passing the baton over to England footballer Marcus Rashford, whose campaigning on free school meals has caused social media storms and government U-turns. Years after Oliver transformed from chef to activist, it is astounding, however, that there still is a baton that needs to be passed on.

“Marcus has done a brilliant job making waves on this issue,” Oliver tells The Big Issue. “There’s also a lot of amazing stuff happening on the ground and that’s why, wherever possible, I’m trying to amplify other people’s voices.”

Speaking in the latest edition of The Big Issue magazine about the history of free school meals and the work left to do, Oliver says there is a groundswell of activism around food poverty and the right to food.

“Some absolutely amazing young campaigners are calling for change based on their own experiences and the food they see around them at school, online and on the high street,” he says.

Bite Back 2030 is a youth movement I co-founded to empower future generations and they inspire me every single day. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the government listened to the young people who were actually affected by this stuff, rather than the people with the biggest ‘influence’ in the media?”

Rashford’s political campaigning began with an open letter to MPs asking them to reconsider the decision to suspend the free school meals programme over the summer holidays. The program had enabled pupils who would normally benefit from free school meals to receive shopping vouchers or food parcels if they were attending school from home during lockdown.

In the face of Rashford’s campaign, the Government retreated and launched a £120 million Covid summer food fund which enabled schools to order a £90 or £105 voucher per pupil depending on the length of the school’s holiday.

Rashford continued to campaign. In September he formed the Child Food Poverty Task Force with UK food brands and supermarkets aiming to expand holiday provision, as well as extending the free school meal programme to encompass all those whose families receive Universal Credit.

Rashford then provoked a second government U-turn in November with the launch of the winter grant scheme. The government initiative dedicated £170 million to supporting vulnerable families over winter and an expansion of the Holiday and Activities Food programme across Easter, Summer and Christmas 2021.

Oliver says: “The past year has shown us how important health and resilience are to each and every one of us, and I believe we have a collective responsibility to ensure our children have the best start in life.”

Since Oliver’s Jamie’s School Dinners, he has launched a number of campaigns on childhood obesity, including the #Adenough campaign, and his current Food Revolution aiming to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

The pair continue to campaign and were both signatories on a letter to Boris Johnson sent at the start of the year demanding concrete action following the mayhem of the free school meals system.

Read more from the interview in the latest edition of The Big Issue, available from your local vendor.

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