England star Marcus Rashford warns of the grim reality of the country in 2020 as he kicks off a campaign to tackle the Government on the child food poverty crisis.
The Manchester United striker made it 1-0 against Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he forced a humiliating U-turn on free school meal vouchers over the summer.
And the 22-year-old, who knew the blight of hunger as a child, is now spearheading a task force to highlight the “devastating effects on the stability of our country” if food poverty goes unchallenged.
In a moving letter to MPs, he says: “I spoke to a mother recently who, along with her two young sons, is living off three slices of bread a day – soaking them in water and adding sugar, hoping the porridge consistency might better sustain the hunger of her one-year-old.
The Manchester United football star as a young lad
(Image: . unknown)
“I spoke to a family who were sleeping on one mattress on the floor – they had no choice but to sell every valuable to put food on the table for their children. All of this, a result of unforeseen circumstances that are entirely out of their control, such as redundancy and illness. This is the true reality of England in 2020.”
When he forced the U-turn on meal vouchers, Rashford spoke of his own experience of using such a scheme as his family struggled.
He tells in his letter of how he has sat with parents who have “cried with sheer relief that putting food on their children’s plates was one less thing to worry about this summer”.
And he adds: “When we pause, listen and reflect on what the future of our next generation could potentially look like, it’s easy to see if we don’t take action quickly, the issue of food poverty will have devastating effects on the stability of our country.
Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford and his Mum Mel
(Image: Daily Mirror)
“These children are the future – our next generation of NHS workers, police officers, footballers and politicians. 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.”
Rashford has teamed up with industry giants Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Deliveroo, FareShare, Food Foundation, Iceland, Kellogg’s, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose to form the Child Food Poverty Task Force.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker warned yesterday of “Dickensian” levels of poverty and added: “Nothing is more important than the future of our youth.”
Rashford met some of the families he has already helped on BBC Breakfast. One single mum held out her hands in prayer and said: “Thank you for what you have done.”
Marcus Rashford (third from right) playing for the Fletcher Moss Rangers before he turned 5
Another mum said his initiative had stopped her feeling “looked down upon” when she sought help.
And Rashford told of how he knew the free school meal vouchers would not be the end of his fight. He said: “We had to think about how’s the best way to do it so these families can eat long-term and not have any issues.”
Over the next six weeks, task force members will dedicate their platforms to sharing the stories of those most affected by food poverty.
Rashford said: “I feel like at times people think they are looked down on if they ask for help. You should feel free if you want to ask for help. Hold your head up high and if you need help, get help.”
Former England skipper Gary Lineker was among those praising Rashford’s latest campaign.
The Man U striker won the nation’s hearts with his poverty campaign success
The Match of the Day host, 59, said: “What an impressive and inspirational man. Wonderful to see a young footballer use his platform so positively to make a real difference to the lives of so many.”
And Manchester United tweeted: “We couldn’t be prouder.”
The PM’s spokesman said: “We will consider the taskforce recommendations as we approach the next spending review.” Schools minister Nick Gibb added: “I’d be delighted to meet Marcus Rashford.
“We are looking at all the policy suggestions he has put forward in his letter to make sure they do deliver on our shared objective, which is alleviating the kind of poverty he talks about.”
A banner is seen in Wythenshawe after Rashford won a Tory u-turn over free school meals
Rashford previously revealed how mum Melanie forced through his move to United’s academy a year early to help him.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The programme I started at 11, you’re supposed to start it at 12. It basically gives you accommodation closer to the training facilities and a new school.
“She worked hard to push it forward. I needed to be eating the right foods and be close to my teammates and school friends.
Rashford has his eyes on a fresh goal in his child poverty fight
(Image: UEFA via .)
“She made that decision when I was 11 and United allowed it, so that was why I ended up going at a younger age. It was to help my mum with her situation and get me out of the situation I was in.”
The star moved to the Northern Moor estate in Wythenshawe, Manchester, aged nine.
Asked if he recalled being hungry, he said: “Yeah but I understood, maybe it was just part of me growing up. I knew how hard my mum was working.
“What families are going through now, I once had to go through. It’s very difficult to find a way out but now I’m in this position, it’s important for me to help the people that are struggling.”
Marcus Rashford with Fare Share UK volunteers
‘Marcus Rashford’s free school meals win helped my family’
Anisah Rahman is about to start sixth form and hopes to become a paediatrician.
But before she could look to help others, she needed help after she and her family of six struggled in the pandemic.
The 16-year-old from Camden, North London, said: “I have had free school meals my whole life. When the pandemic hit, we had no free school meals, no vouchers or any help initially.
“Suddenly my parents were trying to feed four children, three times a day.” Anisah, a youth leader with Bite Back 2030, a campaign for a healthier food system, adds:
“When the free school vouchers came into force it took the weight off our shoulders.”
Bite Back 2030 chief James Toop added: “All the young people involved in Bite Back 2030 are fully behind the work that Marcus is doing. The Chancellor has a powerful opportunity coming up to put child health front and centre.”
Marcus Rashford on BBC Breakfast meeting families he helped with his successful campaign
‘My three demands’
Marcus Rashford has set out three objectives and is calling for sufficient funds to implement them without delay.
Expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5 million seven to 16-year-olds. Expanded holiday provision for all kids on free school meals, reaching 1.1 million more. Healthy Start vouchers raising from £3.10 to £4.25 a week and covering all on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching 290,000 more pregnant women and under-fours.