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Food & Hunger

Marcus Rashford: 200,000 People Sign UK Petition for Free School Meals Over Christmas Within 1 Day

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 2 aims to end hunger and malnutrition globally by 2030. But the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked hunger crises all over the world, including in Britain. It’s critical that we tackle food poverty, especially for children, otherwise it could have devastating impacts in other areas of life too, including health, education, and more. Take action to protect the most vulnerable communities from COVID-19 and its impacts here.

Back in June, Marcus Rashford was celebrating: football was finally back after a prolonged pandemic-shaped absence, Manchester United were on a 5-game winning streak, and he had successfully urged UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to offer free school meals to children across the country over the summer holidays.

Four months on, and autumn’s cold snap has brought a renewed COVID-19 spike in Britain. Death rates are consistently in triple figures for the first time since June and 900,000 more children have signed up for free school meals.

And as Rashford, 22, launches another campaign to ensure all those kids have enough food to eat over Christmas, the British public have once again got behind him.

The footballer shared a petition on Thursday that urged the government to implement three key recommendations from the National Food Strategy, the first major review into UK food systems since World War Two, published in July. You can sign the petition here.

First, the campaign asks for access to free school meals to be urgently expanded to those under the age of 16 who have parents that are on universal credit, the UK’s all-in-one welfare system. Then during the October half term and Christmas break, meals and activities must be provided to tackle holiday hunger.

Related Stories Sept. 1, 2020 Footballer Marcus Rashford Launches UK Task Force to Tackle Food Poverty

Finally, support should be increased for the “Healthy Start” scheme — a government programme that provides vouchers for fresh fruit, milk, and vegetables, backed by the food poverty task force that Rashford set up in September. They’re available if you’re pregnant, or have a child under the age of four — and Rashford wants it increased from £3.10 a week to at least £4.25.

“For too long this conversation has been delayed,” Rashford said as he launched the petition. “Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of COVID-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children.”

“Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs,” he continued. “Whatever your feeling, opinion, or judgment, food poverty is never the child’s fault.”

Rashford added: “Let’s protect our young. Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children.”

Over the summer holidays, 1.4 million students faced hunger, according to new data from the Food Foundation — that’s a fifth of all 8 to 17-year-olds in the UK.

But despite the petition already earning over 200,000 signatures within about 24 hours, the government hasn’t yet lent its support to the campaign. However, once any petition surpasses 100,000 signatures, the government must officially consider debating it.

“It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays," a spokesperson from 10 Downing Street reportedly said. But Rashford responded with typical determination: “This is not going away anytime soon and neither am I,” he tweeted.

Related Stories Oct. 12, 2020 A Surge in Children Signing Up for Free School Meals Raises Concerns About UK Food Poverty

Dominic Rabb, the UK’s foreign secretary, added that the government would “always listen to what Marcus has got to say”, but insisted that the “right package [was] in place already” — through universal credit and via emergency funding to local councils in affected communities.

However, the government has said this before — and in June, Rashford’s campaigning led to a spectacular U-turn, meaning that the free school meals scheme was temporarily expanded so children could continue to eat during the summer holidays.

Rashford’s work was recognised on October 10 with an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours.