Marcus Rashford has issued an appeal to the public to back his food poverty campaign, saying that showing compassion and empathy towards the poorest children in society is part of “what it means to be British”.

The footballer called on people to be generous and to help rather than judge children in families that have fallen on hard times.

“Whatever your feeling, opinion or judgment, food poverty is never the child’s fault,” he said. “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 has launched an online petition calling on the government to extend free school meals to 1.5 million more young people from struggling families. About 1.4 million children were claiming free school lunches before the pandemic, and nearly a million are estimated to have newly registered in recent weeks.

Rashford, who was awarded an MBE at the weekend for services to vulnerable children, has become a prodigious anti-poverty campaigner, forcing a government U-turn on holiday food vouchers in June and on Monday backing a cross-party parliamentary bill to fund free breakfast provision to schools in deprived areas.

His latest initiative is likely to increase pressure on the government to do more for hundreds of thousands of struggling families who find themselves in hardship and facing food insecurity as result of the Covid crisis.

The Welsh government announced on Thursday that it would guarantee free school meal provision for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021 at a cost of £11m. Its education minister, Kirsty Williams, said she hoped this would provide “some reassurance [for parents] in these times of uncertainty”.

Although the pandemic has exacerbated child food poverty in the UK, Rashford said the problem predated the pandemic, and that the current debate about ensuring children had enough to eat had been delayed for too long.

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,” he said.

New analysis suggests that nearly one in five UK children aged eight to 15 experienced food insecurity during the summer holidays.

The Food Foundation survey of more than 1,000 children found that 18% had reported experiencing at least one indicator of food insecurity, including being hungry but not eating because of lack of food, parents not eating because of lack of food, or eating at a friend’s house because of lack of food at home.

Ministers are understood to have no plans to extend the school holiday food voucher scheme over the coming autumn half-term.

A government spokesperson said: “We have taken substantial action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic, extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were partially closed during lockdown, increasing universal credit by up to £20 a week, funding councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals and allocating £63m to councils who are distributing it to those in need.”

source: theguardian.com

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