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How football star Marcus Rashford became a political player

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He’s better known for his exploits in a Manchester United shirt, having first joined the club as a hopeful seven-year-old, but that hasn’t stopped Marcus Rashford from eliciting genuine change within the corridors of power.

On Tuesday afternoon, following a high-profile campaign spearheaded by the footballer, the government announced that roughly 1.3 million children in England will now receive free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays.

It marks yet another u-turn for Boris Johnson, having initially dismissed widespread calls to support those disadvantaged children who have been forced to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.


“I don’t even know what to say,” the 22-year-old tweeted in the wake of the announcement. “Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”

Earlier on Tuesday, before the PM bowed to the mounting pressure, Rashford had written in The Times that his sights were set on a “trophy that stands for something much bigger than football”.

“A u-turn on the decision to stop the free food voucher scheme continuing over the summer holidays could help us reach the next round but we still have a very long way to go as a country to eventually lift the trophy,” he said. “In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.”

Indeed, this is just one victory on the long road to tackling such a widespread and damaging issue – one that Rashford himself says he grappled with as a child while growing up in Wythenshawe, a Manchester suburb where over a third of children are living in poverty.

But at the same time, every forward step makes a difference – and Rashford has shown his capacity for venturing outside of his usual territory and into the world of politics, unafraid to use his platform to confront a political matter in the hope of delivering change.

Rashford first joined the charitable food organisation FareShare back in March when schools were first shut due to the pandemic, leaving an estimated 1.3 million kids who would otherwise have received free government meals at risk of going hungry.

He has made several personal donations to the cause, which by the end of May was providing over 2 million meals for projects supporting children through the crisis. After his public endorsement of the charity, it raised £20m.

It is notable that Labour had been pushing this campaign hard in recent days – but it is Rashford’s efforts that appear to have landed the hardest blow to the government’s tone-deaf resistance.

With 2.8 million followers on twitter, the entire football community behind him and his reputation as a compassionate, educated athlete to hand, he wields a degree of political clout that few others in Westminster command.

This meant others were taking note and adding further momentum to Rashford’s campaign.

Politicians such as Sadiq Khan and Rebecca Long-Bailey threw their support behind the movement, along with the rest of Labour, while the BBC aired a one-on-one interview with the footballer from his home on Monday, before The Times ran his column on Tuesday.

The Co-op similarly called on the government to take action, announcing it would be extending its support scheme for the summer, ensuring 6,000 students who normally receive government funded free school meals would receive Co-op gift cards. “We’re with you @MarcusRashford,” the company tweeted.

#maketheuturn spread like wildfire across Twitter and other social platforms before the government eventually relinquished on Tuesday afternoon – just hours before the PM was due to oppose a Labour motion in the Commons demanding disadvantaged children have access to food over the summer break.

Marcus Rashford pleads for Government rethink on free school meal vouchers

This was one fight that Johnson and his team knew they could not win.

As for Rashford and what comes next, expect more of the same. Indeed, he has already received a High Sheriff Special Recognition Award for his contributions to the community of Greater Manchester during the crisis.

The England international has also encouraged kids to read, and learned sign language to judge a World Book Day poetry competition after a request from a fan in Year 7.

He has repeatedly spoken out against racism in football and was one of many high profile figures to publicly declare his support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in the US.

“At a time I’ve been asking people to come together, work together and be united, we appear to (be) more divided than ever. People are hurting and people need answers,” he posted on Instagram.

“Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter.”

Today’s victory may be his most meaningful to date, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’ll be his last.

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