Marcus Rashford has explained how combating child poverty has become his new Champions League dream after refusing to take no as an answer in his quest to force a U-turn on the government’s plan to end free school meal vouchers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to grant the Manchester United forward’s passionate plea for school meals to be provided for vulnerable children throughout the summer holidays, with the coronavirus pandemic and the financial crisis it has generated placing those most at risk of poverty in need of more help than ever before.
Rashford has been a shining light in dark times, with the England international launching a charity scheme alongside FareShare to fund meals for vulnerable people, with more than three million now distributed every week. The 22-year-old has spoken openly of how his family depended on similar schemes when he was a child, and upon seeing the government’s decision not to extend the scheme worth £15-a-week to families throughout the summer, he decided to take action.
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Rashford’s campaign has received the backing of Labour leader Keir Starmer as well as a number of Conservative MPs, while the wider community has praised him for his proactive stance in trying to make a change for the greater good.
However, Rashford’s aim is not solely to force a U-turn on the decision that could see hundreds of thousands of children go hungry in the summer months, but to completely revolutionise child poverty in the United Kingdom.
Writing in The Times, Rashford said: “People often ask me how it felt to score the deciding penalty against Paris Saint-Germain to knock them out of the Champions League last season, my answer is always the same: did we go on to win the tournament?
“I have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received over the last 24 hours, from MPs and members of the public, but the feeling I have is exactly the same as when we got knocked out of the Champions League against Barcelona in the next round: what did we achieve if we didn’t get the result we needed? If we didn’t lift the Champions League trophy?
“Today I focus 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. In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.”
With 1.3m children dependent on free school meal vouchers in the UK, the summer months will leave families going hungry unless something is done to help feed them. Rashford adds that a quarter of those are yet to receive any help at all since lockdown began, which he labelled a “forgotten generation” and for which he laid the blame firmly at the feet of the current government.
“When you next wake up and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown,” Rashford added. “When you turn on the kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee, think of those parents who have had to default on electricity bill payments just to make ends meet, having lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“And when you head to the fridge to grab the milk, stop and recognise that parents of at least 200,000 children across the country are waking up to empty shelves and the innocent question ‘why?’. Today nine out of 30 children in any given classroom are asking why. Why does their future not matter?
“This is the devastating reality of child poverty in England in 2020. This is a pandemic that will last generations if we don’t change our thinking now.”
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