This is why Manchester United player Marcus Rashford’s letter to the government about free school meals is so important during the pandemic.
Children eligible for free school meals in term time in England will get a six-week voucher, following a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford. A “Covid summer school fund” will be set up, paying around £15 a week per recipient and costing about £120m. It was confirmed by Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon (16 June).
Original article (16 June 2020, 8:21 am):
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated and exposed many inequalities in our society: from undervaluing our low-income carers and key workers, to still having no answers on the disproportionate number of deaths of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. There are so many people to be held to account, questions to be answered, and urgent changes to be made. And one of these pressing issues, currently under the spotlight, is food poverty.
During term time lockdown, students who usually receive free school meals have instead been fed through alternative schemes such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. However, the government’s centrally-funded national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.
Marcus Rashford, a footballer for Manchester United, has shared an open letter to the government, asking for it to reverse its decision to stop free school meal vouchers. Rashford details his own experience of growing up with free school meals, and explains how much they helped his single parent family.
“My story to get here is all-too-familiar for families in England,” he writes. “My mum worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table. But it was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked. As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches.”
Laying out the facts, Rashford says: “1.3 million children in England are registered for free school meals, one quarter of these children have not been given any support since the school closures were ordered.”
He adds: “To put this pandemic into perspective, from 2018-2019, nine out of 30 children in any given classroom were living in poverty in the UK. This figure is expected to rise by an additional one million by 2022. In England today, 45% of children in black and minority ethnic groups are now in poverty.”
Rashford goes on to ask MPs to reconsider the decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020,” he adds, “and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance. Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the u-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”
A Downing Street spokesperson has since confirmed the scheme will end when the school term ends, adding: “The PM understands the issues facing families across the UK, which is why last week the government announced an additional £63m for local authorities to benefit families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials.”
However, Rashford has said he will continue to fight, and the letter is continuing to receive praise and support from Twitter users and MPs across all parties.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “From one Mancunian FSM kid to another I fully support Marcus in his campaign. The government need to stop dodging this issue.”
Labour MP Marsha De Cordova added: “Powerful from @MarcusRashford. The Government must find it’s humanity and #maketheUturn on food vouchers.”
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes tweeted: “Very powerful letter from @MarcusRashford this morning, it is a message echoed by some head teachers in this constituency.”
Green party MP Caroline Lucas replied: “Thanks @MarcusRashford for such a powerful letter - tho scandal that it’s one you’ve had to write. Government worthy of the name would ensure children don’t go hungry, including free school meals over summer. PM’s made many Uturns - this one is more vital than most #maketheUturn.”
And Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “Tomorrow there is a vote on extending free school meals over the summer which I and @LibDems support. What is shameful is that there is EVER a child who goes hungry in this G7 nation. We can and must tackle these deep inequalities.”
As Moran says, there is a vote on the issue taking place today (Tuesday 16 June), which could see the decision reversed.