Marcus Rashford: Manchester United and England forward urges government to make U-turn on food voucher scheme
Rashford: "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"
By Dan Sansom
Last Updated: 18/06/20 6:41am
Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford has urged the UK government to reconsider its decision not to run the current food voucher scheme during the school summer holidays.
The national voucher system was introduced in March to help low-income families feed their children when schools were closed under lockdown measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Vouchers worth £15 a week are eligible for the families of about 1.3m children in England who are on free school meals, but ministers announced earlier this month that the scheme would not run during the summer holiday period.
Manchester United and England striker Rashford has raised more than £20m for charity after partnering with FareShare during the lockdown period and insists he will "keep fighting" to tackle the issue of child hunger. In a powerful and passionate open letter to MPs, he urged them to reverse their decision.
"This is not about politics; this is about humanity," Rashford said. "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?
"Food poverty in England is a pandemic that could span generations if we don't course correct now.
"The government has taken a 'whatever it takes' approach to the economy - I'm asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.
"I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your 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."
This is not about politics; this is about humanity.
Department for Education reiterates stance
In response to Rashford's letter, the Department for Education confirmed the scheme would not run during the summer holidays.
"As schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school," a spokesperson said. "Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.
"Free schools meals are ordinarily term time only, and the national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays."
It instead referred to its new £63m local authority welfare assistance scheme which it says will "provide help those to who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to the impact of COVID-19", and its Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals in the summer holidays.
'I could have been just another statistic'
Around 5m people in households with children have struggled to put food on the table each day during the coronavirus crisis, while a third of children on free school meals did not have adequate alternative options, according to Food Foundation estimates.
Rashford, who received a High Sheriff Special Recognition award for his work in Greater Manchester, writes in the letter about his own experiences as a child and casts his mind back to his senior England debut.
"On a week that would have opened Euro 2020, I wanted to reflect back to May 27th, 2016, when I stood in the middle of the Stadium of Light in Sunderland having just broken the record for the youngest player to score in his first Senior International match," he said.
"I watched the crowds waving their flags and fist-pumping the three lions on their shirts and I was overwhelmed with pride not only for myself, but for all of those who had helped me reach this moment and achieve my dream of playing for the England national team.
"Understand: without the kindness and generosity of the community I had around me, there wouldn't be the Marcus Rashford you see today: a 22-year-old Black man lucky enough to make a career playing a game I love.
"My story to get here is all-too-familiar for families in England: my mum worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table. But it was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.
Guys, I have AMAZING news!! 😬😬😬 We had a goal that by end of June @fareshareuk would be able to supply 3million meals to vulnerable people across the UK. TODAY we have met the financial goal to provide these meals. Thank you all SO much for the support (1)— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 11, 2020
"As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year. It's only now that I really understand the enormous sacrifice my mum made in sending me away to live in digs aged 11, a decision no mother would ever make lightly.
"This Summer should have been filled with pride once more, parents and children waving their flags, but in reality, Wembley Stadium could be filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food. (200,000 children according to Food Foundation estimates).
"As their stomachs grumble, I wonder if those 200,000 children will ever be proud enough of their country to pull on the England national team shirt one day and sing the national anthem from the stands.
"As a Black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic. Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbours, and my coaches, the only stats I'm associated with are goals, appearances and caps. I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn't stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help."
Rashford says Manchester United are in a "much stronger position" ahead of the Premier League's return than they were when the league was suspended in March.
United were in good form before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to proceedings, having gone unbeaten in their previous 11 matches in all competitions.
The break has allowed Rashford to recover from the back injury that kept him out of the majority of those games and he is now ready to help United pick up where they left off in their first match in over three months, away to Tottenham on June 19 - live on Sky Sports.
"I think coming out of this lockdown we are in a much stronger position than we were going into it," he told Stretty News.
"I think we just need to take each game as it comes and not get too ahead of ourselves. We are working hard in training, gelling as a team with players coming back from injury, etc.
"For me personally, I felt I was having my best season to date before the injury hit so now I'm back fully fit I'm determined to push on."
- 64 live games on Sky Sports from provisional restart date of June 17
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The Premier League 2019/20 season will provisionally restart on Wednesday June 17 and Sky, the UK's leading football broadcaster, will make 25 games available 'free to air' - including Everton vs Liverpool on the first full weekend back - for everyone in the UK to enjoy.
Sky Sports will show 64 live Premier League games when the season resumes. In addition to the 39 matches already scheduled to be broadcast exclusively live on Sky Sports before the coronavirus interruption, 25 more matches will be available on both Sky Sports Premier League and Sky's free-to-air Pick channel, allowing the whole nation to be part of the return of live sport.
To celebrate the return of the Premier League, Sky Sports will also launch a host of innovative new features and updates to give fans an even more immersive experience and share the moments live with family and friends on virtual platforms.