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Footballer calls for free school meals U-turn

Written by: Emma Lunn
Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford has written to MPs about free school meals.

The footballer, who received free school meals and used food banks as a child, has pleaded with ministers to re-consider the decision not to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer.

A voucher scheme was launched in March, providing £15 a week to spend in supermarkets for children eligible for free school meals, while schools were closed due to coronavirus.

But the Government has announced it will not extend the voucher system over the summer.

Rashford, 22, has been working with charity FareShare during lockdown, raising more than £20m to provide meals for vulnerable children.

In his letter to MPs, Rashford explained how, when he was growing up, his mum worked full-time, earning the minimum wage, but her wages weren’t enough to feed the family.

“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. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year,” Rashford said in his letter.

“This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?

“During this pandemic, people are existing on a knife’s edge: one missed bill is having a spiral effect, the anxiety and stress of knowing that poverty is the main driver of children ending up in care, a system that is designed to fail low-income families.”

Rashford pointed out that while 1.3 million children in England are registered for free school meals, a quarter of these children have not received any support since schools were closed in March.

He warned that, as we approach the end of the furlough scheme and a predicted period of mass unemployment, the problem of child poverty is only going to get worse.

Rashford’s letter was backed up by Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, who also grew up receiving free school meals and accused the Conservative government of “not listening”.

“Perhaps if more MPs on the government benches had received free school meals, they wouldn’t need convincing of the need to make sure that kids don’t go hungry this summer,” says Streeting.

Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has launched a petition to put pressure on the Government to fund free school meals throughout the summer.

Her intervention follows years of campaigning by MPs including Sharon Hodgson, who also received free school meals, Carolyn Harris, who has been organising food distribution across Swansea, and cross-party groups on hunger and school food.

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