Marcus Rashford has helped end stigma for "school meal kids" - former Education Secretary

16 June 2020, 15:33 | Updated: 16 June 2020, 15:39

By Seán Hickey

A ex-Labour MP praised Marcus Rashford for his work in pushing the government to extend free school meals through the summer.

Alan Johnson was Education Secretary for Labour and he shared his memories of growing up in a family having to avail of free school meals.

"The difficulty for my mother was always the summer holidays and how she would feed us" Mr Johnson told Shelagh Fogarty. He applauded the work of the Manchester United footballer for making this a debate and ultimately forcing Boris Johnson to make a U-turn on his policy.

Shelagh argued that "what Marcus Rashford has done as much as anyone else is to tell anyone who feels ashamed that great footballers have been through what they're going through"

Mr Johnson shared is own feelings of embarrassment as a child using the system, revealing that "every week I had to go through the stigma" and added that "kids are sensitive to these things because you're different."

"For Marcus Rashford to say that, you know, would have lifted the morale of lots of kids; what, 15% of children get free school meals so, it is not an insignificant number."

Marcus Rashford lobbied the government to extend school meals through summer to fight poverty
Marcus Rashford lobbied the government to extend school meals through summer to fight poverty. Picture: PA

The former Education Secretary told Shelagh that it has often been hinted to in Westminster to introduce a scheme through summers and thought that it may have already been suggested by politicians to extend the scheme.

"All it needed was for someone to come belting down the wing like Marcus Rashford to give it the higher profile if you like and he did it absolutely wonderfully."

"One thing's for sure, we'll never go back again." He told Shelagh.

"This will always now be the case. There will always be free school meals for kids during the summer." Mr Johnson said, adding that "once the toothpaste is out of the tube" there will be no turning back and although the government may want to abolish the scheme post coronavirus, "it's there for good now" whether they like it or not.

When Shelagh asked how this level of poverty in the UK can be fought in future, the former Education Secretary insisted that you "don't cut people's benefits" and blamed the government for reversing everything done to try and fight inequality in the past.

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