Marcus Rashford warns of 'devastating' effects of child poverty as he launches new task force

1 September 2020, 08:35

Marcus Rashford is spearheading a task force to tackle child poverty in the UK
Marcus Rashford is spearheading a task force to tackle child poverty in the UK. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Marcus Rashford has warned of the "devastating" effects of child food poverty as he launches a new task force to tackle the issue.

The Manchester United and England striker announced his new project following his successful campaign for free school meal vouchers to be provided to pupils over summer.

He spoke out after the Government repeatedly refused to continue with the scheme after schools had closed, but critics claimed that many more parents would be struggling as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to reporters, the 22-year-old said he knew the issue would not be the end of his campaigning.

He added: "I think we pretty much knew straight away we had found a short-term solution but that wasn't going to work in the long run.

"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."

Read more: Schools in England and Wales welcome pupils back to class

Rashford has now teamed up with the food industry, including major supermarkets and brands, to shed light on the issue of child food poverty in the UK.

Along with Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Deliveroo, FareShare, Food Foundation, Iceland, Kellogg's, Lidl, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, he has formed the Child Food Poverty Task Force.

Over the next six weeks, the task force members will dedicate their platforms to sharing stories of those most affected by child food insecurity in the UK.

In a letter to MPs, Rashford said the objective is to "see sufficient funds from the Chancellor's Budget and Spending Review allocated to implementing these without delay".

The first recommendation is the expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent.

The second is the expansion of holiday provision - food and activities - to support all children on free school meals and the third is increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week - from £3.10 - and extending the scheme to all those on Universal Credit or equivalent.

Read more: Most students 'three months behind with studies' - survey

If successful, free school meals would reach an additional 1.5 million seven to 16-year-olds and Healthy Start vouchers would be given to an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of four.

In his letter, Rashford wrote: "When we pause, listen and reflect on what the future of our next generation could potentially look like, it's easy to see that if we don't take action quickly, the issue of child food poverty will have devastating effects on the stability of our country.

"These children are the future - our next generation of NHS workers, police officers, footballers and politicians."

The Government sparked controversy over free school meals when it refused to extend the scheme due to Covid-19
The Government sparked controversy over free school meals when it refused to extend the scheme due to Covid-19. Picture: PA Images

Rashford recalls his own experience, writing: "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."

He said 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".

Read more: Teacher delivers 7,500 free school meals on foot since start of lockdown

He told MPs: "I spoke to a mother recently who, along with her two young sons, is currently living off three slices of bread a day - soaking them in hot water and adding sugar, hoping that the porridge consistency might better sustain the hunger of her one-year-old child.

"I spoke to a family who were sleeping on one mattress on the floor - the reason being, just like any good parent would, they had had no choice but to sell every valuable they owned 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."

The task force was announced as pupils return to school for the first time since they closed in March due to Covid-19.