Marcus Rashford has officially emerged as one of the heroes of the COVID-19 crisis in the UK.
The 22-year-old footballer, who plays for Manchester United and England, has been in the news in 2020 for his stellar work off the pitch, advocating for families experiencing food poverty.
In a few short months he has raised the profile of the issue, forced the government to U-turn on free school meals, and been awarded an OBE in recognition.
At first, Rashford helped raise £20 million to distribute meals to vulnerable people during the UK lockdown through FareShare, the UK's largest charity fighting hunger and food waste.Then, in June, he pressured the government to continue to provide food vouchers over the school summer holidays in England — ensuring a lifeline for struggling families over the summer break.
But he did not stop there. He went on to help establish a Food Poverty Task Force on Sept. 1, along with major food companies and charities, to explore wider issues around access to nutritious food.
And on Oct. 15, Rashford launched a petition calling for the UK’s poorest families to continue to get access to free school meal vouchers when the schools close again for the October half term and Christmas holidays. It received 200,000 signatures within just one day.
Rashford’s connection to the issue is personal. He has often spoken movingly about the poverty he faced growing up and his experience of hunger as a child. On Wednesday, parliament voted on a proposal to provide further free school meal support until after Easter 2021, spurred by the petition from Rashford — but the amendment didn't pass — a result he said he was "in despair about".
But his compelling arguments about why this is issue is so important still stand, and we have no doubt his campaign will continue fighting. Here are some of his best quotes so far.
1. On the first open letter
Rashford kicked off his campaign by writing a letter to Boris Johnson about why more support was needed during the school summer holidays.
"What families are going through now, I've once had to go through that — and it's very difficult to find a way out. It's very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn't change — that's why I wrote it.”
2. On his mum’s pride at his campaign's impact
Rashford’s mum, Melanie Rashford, worked long hours to put food on the table when he was growing up and he also relied on free school meals. He said she was ecstatic when she heard the news of his campaign success.
“My mum is buzzing…She knows how much it changes people’s lives, and if something like this would have happened when we were younger it would have changed her life massively as well.”
3. On why the pandemic is even more of a reason to tackle food poverty
At the start of September, Rashford launched a task force to help look for “long-term solutions”. He wrote another open letter to the government explaining his decision, arguing that the pandemic had made it more urgent.
“Food poverty is contributing to social unrest. Add school closures, redundancies, and furloughs into the equation and we have an issue that could negatively impact generations to come. It all starts with stability around access to food.”
#endchildfoodpoverty is not about children going hungry during the school holidays, this is about children going hungry full stop. Let’s not loose sight of the bigger picture here. There are at least 1.5million children we are not reaching with the free school meal scheme...— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 19, 2020
4. On why education is so important
Rashford is calling for every child from a household where the parents are on universal credit or equivalent to be eligible for free school meals. Currently only the poorest families on benefits can qualify. But this change would mean the meals reaching an additional 1.5 million children aged seven to 16, his campaign said.
“Education is only effective when children can engage in learning. 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.”
5. On trying to get decision-makers to listen
Rashford gathered the biggest names in the food industry for his task force, including Aldi, Tesco, and Deliveroo — and non-profits like FareShare and the Food Foundation. He’s publicly calling for more dialogue.
“Myself and the task force continue to invite those in power to collaborate, sit around the table, and collectively understand how we can support our most vulnerable children. The invitation is consistently met with silence."
6. On why he will always speak up
Following the voting down of a proposal on Oct. 20 which would have extended free school meal provision during school breaks until Easter 2021, Rashford wrote a response and posted it to social media. In it he spoke about humanity, and the need for long-term food stability in children’s lives, and that he would carry on raising his voice.
“I don’t have the education of a politician, many on Twitter have made that clear today, but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected. These children matter... And as long as they don't have a voice they will have mine. ”