Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign receives growing support

Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign receives growing support

After a heavy defeat in the House of Commons, by 322 votes to 261, celebrities and politicians have come out in support of Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child hunger in England.
On Wednesday the government voted against extending free school meals to disadvantaged children during the holidays until Easter 2021.

Earlier this year, in June, the Manchester United striker called for the free school meals to be extended out of term time to make sure disadvantaged children do not go hungry.

The 22-year-old footballer drew upon his own experiences of relying on a food voucher scheme as a child. In a letter to MPs, Rashford reflected on his own experience, writing: ‘I remember the sound of my mum crying herself to sleep to this day, having worked a 14-hour shift, unsure how she was going to make ends meet.’ The sound of his mum crying still haunts him today.

marcus rashford young marcus rashford young

He vowed to keep up his campaign after a government spokesperson said they would not change their mind on the policy.
In a dramatic U-turn Boris Johnson caved in to pressure from campaigners to stop “holiday hunger” and confirmed all pupils qualifying for free school meals in England will be given supermarket food vouchers to cover the six-week summer holiday at a cost of £120m.

The climbdown was hailed by Manchester United and England striker Rashford and anti-poverty campaigners, but charities warned that the coronavirus crisis meant “soaring” numbers of families would be forced to use food banks this summer, even with the vouchers in place.

Earlier this month Rashford was awarded an MBE for his services to vulnerable children in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. He successfully lobbied the Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy during lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive meals across the summer.

school meals

Now, when his petition called for the food vouchers to continue through half-term and Christmas was backed by over 300,000 signatures the government voted against it.

He’s clashed with Tory MPs who suggested that extending free school meals “increases dependency” on the state while the cost could contribute to “destroying the currency”.

Home Office Minister Kit Malthouse insisted the government was helping low-income families through the welfare system. He said the government had raised Universal Credit by £20 a week, adjusted housing benefit to help people with their rent and given £63m to councils to help with hardship funding.

He acknowledged the decision on free school meals was "a tough one" and praised Mr Rashford for his campaign to tackle child hunger.
Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said it was right that, during an unprecedented and unpredictable period at the start of the pandemic, extra measures were taken. “But we are in a different position now that we have welcomed all pupils back to school,” he said.

“Free school meals are and always have been about supporting children with a meal to help them when they’re at school or currently at home learning. But it is our support through universal credit and our comprehensive welfare system that supports families.”

Responding to the vote, he wrote in a statement on Twitter:

marcus rashford

‘Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality.
‘A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.’ ‘
We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation. This is not politics, this is humanity.’
He urged politicians to ‘unite’ and said it is ‘time we worked together’ because child food poverty ‘has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced’.
The England forward, who has spoken of his own experiences growing up in poverty in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, added: ‘I don’t have the education of a politician, but I have a social education having lived through this," he said.
"These children matter... and for as long as they don't have a voice, they will have mine."

Five Conservative MPs rebelled against their party by voting with Labour - including Ms Ansell who has now stepped down as parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Other celebrities supporting Rashford included Hannah Cockroft, a five-time Paralympic champion, who signed and retweeted the England striker’s petition calling for an end to child poverty. The Sky sports presenter Kelly Cates, responding to Tory comments in the debate, tweeted: “Giving kids free meals makes them dependent on the state? What, like Marcus Rashford?”

Among the tweets from politicians, the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage wrote: “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out, not being seen to give poor kids lunch in the school holidays looks mean and is wrong.”

gary lineaker
As well as backing the wider campaign, Gary Lineker paid tribute to Rashford, tweeting: “Love this kid. He shouldn’t, of course, have to do this, but what a hero for doing so, and with such modesty and dignity.”

There was also support from the Brookside and Holby City actor Nicola Stephenson, who posted the front page of the Mirror with the headline “So cruel” and tweeted: “Shame on all of them. @MarcusRashford, you are a hero.”

The actor Robert Lindsay added his voice, writing: “Amidst all the current madness they actually arranged to have a vote????? A VOTE!!! for #FreeSchoolMeals … and they voted against?”

Rashford, who has raised £20m for the FareShare charity to supply children’s meals during the pandemic, has visited the charity with his mum who are naming a new warehouse in her honour. The footballer has been an ambassador for national food redistribution charity FareShare since March 2020. The charity said it has seen demand for food soar since the outbreak of Covid-19 and is now distributing double the amount of food in comparison to before the lockdown in March, enough food for two million meals each week.

marcus rashord and mum at charity  marcus rashord and mum at charity

To respond to the crisis, FareShare Greater Manchester has taken on additional warehouse space which could treble the amount of food distributed in the region, naming the space Melanie Maynard House after Rashford’s mother.
Rashford and his mother met staff and volunteers to see how the charity will be responding to soaring demand this Christmas.

He said: ‘The real superstars in this country can be found in the heart of most cities, towns and villages, working tirelessly to support our most vulnerable across the UK.

"As FareShare and other food-related charities approach one of the toughest Winters on record, with demand higher than ever before, it is important that I stay connected and lend my support wherever it is needed.
‘When we stumble, there will always be a community to wrap their arms around us and pick us back up. For many of us, that is FareShare or the local food bank." 

"Food banks who are staffed with selfless volunteers, dedicating their lives to protecting those most vulnerable, those who, in many cases, have fallen into unforeseen circumstances due to illness, personal loss and unemployment." 
‘It should be noted that a lot of these volunteers have themselves suffered unemployment as a result of the pandemic, yet they still strive to help others less fortunate."

As a leading supplier of education staff, TLTP Education have followed and supported Marcus Rashford with this campaign to extend free school’s meals. On a daily basis we see first-hand the difference we can all make to children by providing them the right support from an early age. Child poverty should not exist in today’s world, together we can help fight it.