England’s football players have been taking the knee at Euro 2020 to protest against racism but one in particular has been standing up for Britain’s poorest children.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has been campaigning for the astonishing 20% of English* children who qualify for free school meals, one of the indicators of poverty in the U.K. The number exploded during the COVID pandemic.
In 2020, Rashford added his voice to that of 16-year-old Christine Adane, a London schoolgirl who had started a petition to get the government to give families food vouchers over the summer holidays. Christine explained that COVID lockdowns has particularly badly affected low-income families like hers. When schools closed, families were given vouchers for food. But they were not planned over the holidays. Christine argued that the vouchers made the difference between eating and hunger for these families.
Rashford wrote an open letter to all MPs. It began:
In the week that Euro 2020 was supposed to begin, I want to look back on how I achieved my dream of playing for the England national team. Without the kindness and generosity of the community, 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 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. As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the generosity of neighbours and coaches.
The government immediately agreed to continue the voucher scheme over the summer. Following more campaigning, the voucher scheme was extended to the end of 2021.
Rashford has continued campaigning on behalf of children like his young self. He’s started a club with chef Tom Kerridge, offering recipes on social media to make cheap and healthy meals: one of the consequences of food poverty is bad health as the cheapest food items are rarely the most nutritious or balanced. Many low-income families suffer the double bind of living in “food deserts”, with few shops or supermarkets within easy reach.
And in his latest initiative, Rashford has teamed up with publishers Macmillan to provide free books at school breakfast clubs, since families who struggle to buy food generally can’t provide their children with books to encourage literacy.
* Statistics are separate for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and policies on free school meals are the responsibility of the devolved parliaments.
You can find three articles for students about Christine's petition and Marcus Rashford's support at A1+, A2 and B1 levels in the Banque de ressources anglais cycle 4:
Articles de presse > A1+, A2, B1 > Information, communication, citoyenneté > "Marcus and Me".
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