The Queen’s Birthday Honours list was announced last week. Amongst the names was Marcus Rashford. Rashford, 22, from Wythenshawe, South Manchester, was awarded the title of MBE “for services to vulnerable children in the UK during Covid-19″.
The Manchester United footballer’s services began during the coronavirus lockdown in March. He teamed up with the London-based charity FareShare to distribute meals to children in the Greater Manchester region. Additionally, he supplied community centres and school breakfast clubs, due to schools closing, to help cover some of the free school meal deficit.
However, the government which provided vouchers to families and children who qualified for free school meals decided that this scheme would not continue into the summer holidays.
In an emotional letter on the 15th of June to Members of Parliament, Rashford called on the reversal of this decision. He urged them to “make the u-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority”.
Citing his own experiences of food poverty as a child, Rashford empathised with the plight of those suffering. He himself experienced relying on breakfast clubs, free school meals, food banks and soup kitchens. He recalled “very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year”.
The day after the letter was published, the government reversed their decision. The combination of Rashford’s open letter to MPs, in addition to his work over the lockdown period, were cited as a major factors for the government’s policy change. Free school meals for children were extended to include the summer holidays.
Despite his efforts to combat child food poverty, Rashford experienced criticism from MPs. Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake replied to a tweet asking why the government was not putting more work in with “where they can, it’s a parent’s job to feed their children.”
On 15th July, Marcus Rashford became the youngest person to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester. Described as ‘the highest honour the university can bestow’, it was awarded in recognition of his work to end child poverty in the UK.
Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, described Rashford as “an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary talent and drive”.
“His work for charity and his high-profile campaign will not only help countless young people across our own city, but across the entire country.
“Our university has social responsibility at its core. This sense of civic pride and duty is something we are proud to share with Marcus. That is why the University is delighted to make Marcus our youngest ever recipient of an honorary degree.”
Rashford himself announced it was a “proud day for myself and my family”. He acknowledged that there was still a long struggle ahead in combating food poverty. However, “recognition from your city means we are heading in the right direction and that means a lot”.
On 1st September, in a continuation of his campaign to tackle child food poverty, Rashford announced that he had set up the Child Food Poverty Task Force in collaboration with several UK food shops, manufacturers, charities and delivery companies.
The task force’s main aims is pushing the government accepting the policy recommendations by the National Food Strategy. To expand free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit, to provide meals & activities during all holidays, and to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme.
In a statement released on Twitter, Rashford stated that he was “incredibly honoured and humbled”. Yet at the same time urged the Prime Minister to continue to support children with a further extension of the voucher scheme.”
Speaking to BBC Breakfast about being made an MBE, Rashford said: “It’s a nice moment for me personally but I feel like I’m still at the beginning of the journey that I set out to try to achieve.”
However, Rashford’s call for the continuation of free school meals during the holidays was yesterday rejected by the government. Continuing his campaign, Rashford petitioned the government to implement the recommendations. Within less than 24 hours, the petition already received over 210,000 signatures.
In another tweet, Rashford vowed to continue fighting child food poverty. He stated that “this is not going away soon, and neither am I…”