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A UK footballer’s campaign to prevent poor school kids from starving

March 19th, 2021
topic:Child rights
by:Federica Tedeschi
located in:United Kingdom
tags:child hunger, child poverty, COVID-19 coronavirus, Marcus Rashford, United Kingdom

The UK government has reversed its decision not to extend free school meals over term holidays, following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford (8 November, 2020).

In the light of COVID-19, over a million people signed Mr Rashford’s petition End child food poverty - no child should be going hungry, between the second half of October and the beginning of November.

The pandemic’s financial impact on many families with young children has in fact been devastating. 

According to the footballer, who relied himself on free school meals as a child, the UK government should support vulnerable children and end child food poverty by implementing three recommendations from the National Food Strategy: expanding access to free school meals, providing meals and activities during school breaks to stop hunger and expanding the Healthy Start Scheme.

The government official response, which was published on 11 November on the government website, reads: “We thank Marcus Rashford for highlighting the challenges facing families. On 8th November the Government announced [a] comprehensive support package to help families through winter and beyond.”

To trigger the petition, was the Tory MP’s vote against Labour’s motion to extend free school meals for 1.4 million eligible children in Great Britain over school holidays until Easter 2021. At the end of October, in fact, the Labour’s motion was defeated by 261 votes to 322. Among the MPs who voted against the extension was Children’s Minister Vicky Ford. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had already voted in favour of an extension, instead. 

The international NGO Save the Children decided to support the cause by calling for a temporary £2.85-per-day increase to the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit, to be put in place promptly and support up to 4 million families and 8 million children until April 2021.

In the meantime, 2,200 paediatricians from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) signed an open letter to the PM, urging the UK Government to change course on free school meals during the holidays. 

Dr Max Davie, officer for Health Improvement at the RCPCH said:  “We’re a rich country. This isn’t about money, it’s about making sure people have food to eat, and it’s about doing the right thing for children who need a hand up. We shouldn’t have to fight for food vouchers when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

The Church of England did not miss its chance to have a say on the issue, with Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Durham supporting both the Labour’s motion and Mr Rashford’s campaign, by highlighting the “harrowing” number of families who could be left destitute by Christmas.

At that time Prime Minister Boris Johnson handled criticism by stressing that schools were not responsible for providing food regularly during the term holidays. And the Tories highlighted how the government was already addressing child food poverty in various ways. When schools closed during the first COVID-19 lockdown, for instance, they increased universal credit and provided £63 million to local authorities to support people facing hardship. Within the scheme, families whose kids were eligible for free meals were given food vouchers.

Nevertheless, the unfortunate Tory MP’s vote in October, which took place very close to the half term holiday, prompted a solidarity response from all over the country.

McDonald’s partnered with the charity FareShare to fund 1 million meals over that week, and therefore support families in need in the UK. And FareShare also joined forces with supplement brand FIGHT to donate further 100,000 meals. 

Moreover, a plethora of independent businesses in the hospitality industry throughout the country cooperated to plug the gaps unfilled by the government and offer free meals to struggling families, as reported by the English press.

Among them, Ruddi’s non-for profit cafè in West Yorkshire, Page’s Bakery in Durham and Swiss Cottage Cafè in Devon, just to mention a few. 

Now that the government has decided to guarantee vulnerable children food secure households, a £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme has been set for local authorities to provide meals during the Christmas holidays. Also on the list is the extension of holiday activities and food programmes in order to cover Easter, Summer and Christmas 2021.

The list of the new winter package to support children and their families also includes healthy start payments set to rise from £3.10 to £4.25 per week starting April 2021.

UNICEF estimates that 19 percent of British children currently live in food insecure households; this figure does not include homeless British children.

 

Image: oliveroliu

 

Article written by:
Federica-Tedeschi
Federica Tedeschi
Author
United Kingdom
According to the footballer, who relied himself on free school meals as a child, the UK government should support vulnerable children and end child food poverty by implementing three recommendations from the National Food Strategy.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson first handled criticism by stressing that schools were not responsible for providing food regularly during the term holidays.