Footballer Marcus Rashford has formed a taskforce with some of the UK’s biggest food brands in a bid to help reduce child food poverty.
The group of supermarkets, businesses and charities have backed proposals from the National Food Strategy, an independent review of UK food policy.
The Manchester United forward, 22, said he was “confident” that the group could help change lives “for the better”.
It follows his successful campaign to extend free school meals this summer.
During the coronavirus lockdown the government provided vouchers to families whose children qualify for free meals, but it had insisted this would not continue into the summer holidays.
This prompted the England squad footballer to pen an open letter to MPs, drawing on his own experiences of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up in Wythenshawe, Manchester. He called on the government to reverse its decision – which it did shortly after he spoke out.
The U-turn enabled about 1.3m children in England to claim vouchers over the holidays, with the support working out as about £15 a week per recipient.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Rashford said the move was a “short-term solution” to stopping children from going hungry, but it “wasn’t going to work in the long run”.
“We had to think about best way to do it, to think about how these families can eat long term and not have any issues,” he said.
The footballer has now brought together retail giants such as Tesco, Aldi and Sainsbury’s, takeaway food company Deliveroo, and UK charity FareShare, to tackle the issue of child food poverty and to help reduce the stigma surrounding it.
Mr Rashford is hoping that, with a bigger team of experts around him, he might be able to help more children.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We wanted to do it the best way we could, introduce the best people into our group, and see if using them [we] can push it even more.”
The taskforce is calling for three policy recommendations by the National Food Strategy to be funded by the government as soon as possible:
- Expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5m children aged seven to 16
- Expansion of holiday food and activities to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1m children
- Increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25 per week and expanding it to all those on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 children under the age of four and pregnant women
The taskforce says implementing the three recommendations would mark a “unifying step to identifying a long-term solution to child poverty in the UK”.
Mr Rashford has written to MPs saying he hopes the chancellor will find the funds to do so in his Budget and spending review “without delay”
The first report of the National Food Strategy, which was commissioned by the government in 2019, aims to help create a food system in the UK that is healthy, affordable and sustainable.
Food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the National Food Strategy review, has said school meals are a “fantastic way” to get children eating well at school.
“The alternative to a school lunch is a packed lunch and only 1% of packed lunches have the nutritional value of a school meal,” he said.
“If you look at packed lunches as children get less affluent, those packed lunches have increasingly low nutritional value.”
Members of the taskforce have also pledged to spend the next six weeks using their platforms to share stories of those affected by child food insecurity in the UK.
‘Proud and humbled’
Mr Rashford has stressed the importance of tackling the stigma around child food poverty, and changing attitudes about asking for help.
He told the BBC: “I feel like at times people think they are being looked down on if they ask for help, and I think in this generation… that is something that should change.
“You should feel free if you want to ask for help for anything,” he said. “Hold your head up high and if you need help go and get help.”
The footballer has met some of the families who have benefitted from the extended children’s food voucher scheme, which he said had been an “unbelievable experience”.
“Just to see the smiles on their faces and to see how much it’s helped them, you know, made me happy,” he said. “It was good to see the parents laughing and smiling.”
In a statement announcing the taskforce, Mr Rashford added: “I’m proud and humbled to see such a reaction and commitment from the food industry, and I am confident that together we can help change the lives of those most vulnerable for the better.”