The government has rejected Marcus Rashford’s emotional request that they reverse their decision not to extend a free school meals voucher system for low-income families.
In a letter published on Sunday, Manchester United’s Rashford recalled his own experiences of depending on free school meals as a child, and asked politicians to uphold the national voucher initiative that was introduced in March.
The scheme has allowed children in low-income families access to free meals despite the closure of schools amid the coronavirus crisis, but – despite Rashford’s pleas – it has been confirmed that the system will cease to run when the school term ends.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The PM understands the issues facing families across the UK, which is why last week the government announced an additional £63 million for local authorities to benefit families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials.
“The PM will respond to Marcus Rashford’s letter as soon as he can – [Rashford] has been using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues.”
Rashford’s letter, which prompted an outpouring of support on social media, has received backing from the National Education Union – the largest union of teachers in the country. Their joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union “fully supports” Rashford’s calls for free school meals to continue to be provided over the summer.
Rashford, 22, wrote: “Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don’t course correct now. Whilst 1.3 million children in England are registered for free school meals, one quarter of these children have not been given any support since the school closures were ordered.
“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?”
Rashford has also teamed up with FareShare, a food distribution charity that has been distributing three million meals to vulnerable people across the country each week during the pandemic. But the England striker said he recognised that campaign alone was not enough to make long-lasting changes around the nation.
“The Government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same approach to protecting all vulnerable children across England,” he wrote.
“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider the decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020 and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance. Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”