August is over and that means the UK’s MPs are taking their seats in parliament again, ready to pass new laws that will affect millions of people.
And without a moment’s hesitation, tireless campaigner Marcus Rashford is back on their case again too, wading into the debate on universal credit cuts by calling for the government to take urgent action against rising food poverty.
It comes as new research from the Food Foundation think tank finds that 2.5 million children in Britain experienced food insecurity in the six months between February and July 2021, a situation Rashford describes as a “child hunger pandemic.” That figure is actually higher than in the first six months of the pandemic, and a 27% increase since before the pandemic.
The Manchester United and England player has relaunched his campaign against food poverty with a call to supporters to write to their local MP urging them to back the recommendations made by his food poverty task force ahead of the government’s Spending Review next month, when important funding allocations will be decided.
That includes asking MPs to support the expansion of the Free School Meals and Healthy Start programmes — which would ensure that more children gain eligibility for free lunch and breakfast meals at school — as well as long-term funding for school holiday activities and food programmes too.
This pandemic is far from over for millions of households and we need your help to #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY. No child in the UK should be going to bed hungry.— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) September 6, 2021
Click the link and #WRITENOW to your local MP to pledge your support.https://t.co/iuiALaanlxpic.twitter.com/efjDjKD1OA
In a series of tweets, he argued that to help “stabilise” households in this situation, the government should not go ahead with a planned cut of £20 per week to universal credit — which is due to come into effect on Oct. 6.
The universal credit benefit, the all-in-one government payment offered to people who are out of work, unable to work, or on very low-income, was topped up by £20 per week in March 2020 to help support people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government announced in July that the uplifted rate would end because of data that shows people are starting to get back into work, a decision that has faced cross-party criticism. Citizens Advice, a debt and legal advice charity, has since warned that the change could push over 2 million people into debt, because the benefits payment has not kept pace with the cost of living.
Rashford said: “Instead of removing support through social security, we should be focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic.”
He added in a press statement about his campaign push: "Whilst we've come a long way in the last 20 months, placing the issue of child food poverty at the forefront, devastatingly, the issue is getting worse not better.”
"The entire nation got behind the national team this summer so let's put these figures in football terms: You can fill 27 Wembley stadiums with the 2.5 million children that are struggling to know where their next meal might be coming from today,” Rashford continued. "It will take many of us to stand together on this, and show we care about reaching those most in need in our communities."
Rashford has well and truly put child poverty in the spotlight since the attention his campaigning helped push the government to u-turn in June 2020 and fund food vouchers for children eligible for Free School Meals during the summer holidays.
He pulled off the feat again in October that year and received assurances the funding would continue to cover school holidays from then through to the following Easter.
Rashford’s food poverty task force has gathered the biggest names in the food industry including Tesco, Co-op, and Nestlé, as well as dozens of food charities, to work together and find solutions. Meanwhile, his non-profit cooking initiative with celebrity chef Tom Kerridge is providing weekly low-cost recipe videos for families on a budget.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.