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MARCUS RASHFORD’S ongoing one-on-one with the government entered a new phase yesterday when the Manchester United striker started a parliamentary petition to end child food poverty.
Rashford’s campaign work during lockdown has not only seen him force Boris Johnson’s government into an embarrassing U-Turn to providing food vouchers during the summer holidays, the England international has also struck up a partnership with national supermarkets to start the Child Food Poverty Task Force.
Distributing over four million meals to vulnerable households so far, Rashford has now demanded the government implement three things as part of their National Food Strategy:
Expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on universal credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5 million 7-16 year olds.
Expansion of holiday provision [food and activities] to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1m children.
Increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week (from £3.10) and expanding into all those on universal credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of four.
“For too long this conversation has been delayed,” said Rashford in a statement seen by the Star. “Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of Covid-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children.
“In 2020, no child in the UK should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day, or how they are going to access food come the holidays.
“The school holidays used to be a highlight of the year for children. Today, it is met with anxiety from those as young as seven-years old. Many have said that education is the most effective means of combating poverty. I do not disagree with this statement, but education is only effective when children can engage in learning.
“Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs.
“Whatever your feeling, opinion, or judgement, food poverty is never the child’s fault. Let’s protect our young. Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children.
“Today, millions of children are finding themselves in the most vulnerable of environments and are beginning to question what it really means to be British. I’m calling on you all today to help me prove to them that being British is something to be proud of.”
Rashford’s new campaign is being supported by his task force, with data released today showing that 18 per cent of eight-17 year olds, 1.8m children, say that they suffer from food insecurity during school holidays.
Six per cent of those surveyed said they have to eat less and make food last longer due to a lack of money, while 3 per cent said they eat at a friend’s house because there isn’t enough food at home.
Fifteen-year-old Tyler from Blackburn said: “My friends who have free school meals during term-time already face being bullied about it, but at least they get the meal they need.
“But during the holidays, when we hang out together, they are clearly ashamed that they don’t have enough money to buy basics, like a drink or a bite to eat. This can really divide kids and make those that go without feel excluded. The holidays, which we are meant to look forward to, are instead just really stressful.”
Children’s Commissioner for Scotland Bruce Adamson said: “Poverty and food insecurity was the biggest human rights issue facing children in the UK before the Covid-19 pandemic and we know that the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect children already most at risk.
“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child warned of the grave physical, emotional and psychological effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and called on governments to activate immediate measures to ensure that all children have regular, permanent and unrestricted access to nutritious food.
“Despite the significant efforts of schools, charities and communities, all across the UK, governments are still failing to provide all children with access to food — one of the most basic of human rights.”
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