Marcus Rashford seeks more change after food voucher win

  • Published
Media caption,
Footballer Marcus Rashford's mother struggled to put food on the table for her five children

Footballer Marcus Rashford says he wants to do more to help those in need after winning a battle to have a free school meal voucher scheme extended.

His campaign prompted a government U-turn that will see parents claim vouchers for about 1.3 million children in England during the summer holidays.

But he told BBC Breakfast there are "more steps that need to be taken".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the England star's "contribution to the debate around poverty".

The Manchester United forward said he was "grateful that the prime minister did change his decision" and that, in a phone call, Mr Johnson had thanked him "for using what I've built in a positive manner".

Mr Rashford said the extension of the scheme - launched when schools were closed as part of the coronavirus lockdown - has "bought an extra six weeks" to "figure out what's next".

"I don't want this to be the end of it because there are more steps that need to be taken and we just need to analyse the response," he said in an exclusive interview.

"People are struggling all year around so we still need to learn more about the situation people are in and how we can help them best."

The government says £63m is available to support the most vulnerable families through a new local authority welfare assistance scheme, and its Holiday Activities and Food programme offers activities and free meals in the summer holidays.

On Tuesday, Downing Street announced all children eligible for free school meals in term time in England would benefit from a "Covid summer food fund".

'Impressive campaign'

The announcement came despite ministers having defended the decision not to extend the scheme for days beforehand.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the "involvement of a young, well-liked, articulate and high-profile figure" like Mr Rashford "made that defence less sustainable by the hour".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC it was "totally reasonable" for the government to listen to arguments and change its mind, as it had done in this case.

He congratulated Mr Rashford on his "impressive" campaign which he said was conducted with "such dignity and emotion".

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Hancock accidentally referred to the footballer as Daniel Rashford, which he put down to it being "too early in the morning", adding: "I completely misspoke."

Responding on Twitter, Mr Rashford laughed it off, saying: "I've been called much worse over the last couple of days."

Media caption,
Boris Johnson: "I only became aware of Marcus Rashford's campaign today"

The voucher scheme in England works out at about £15 a week per child, and extending it over the summer will cost around £120m.

The Scottish and Welsh governments had already said they would continue supporting families with food vouchers, meal deliveries or bank transfers.

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will propose an equivalent scheme in Northern Ireland be extended over the summer "if the necessary finances can be secured".

Following Mr Rashford's campaign, Jessica Ekwunife, a single parent of five who uses the vouchers, said: "I just want to thank that man.

"When I heard that the voucher scheme would end, I got so anxious. Its bad enough that we're in cramped conditions. [My children] are always in the fridge, and I have to ask them to wait awhile before they eat the next thing. I feel so bad doing that. They're children."

Will vouchers be enough for struggling families?

Analysis by Hannah Richardson, education and social affairs reporter

Campaigns highlighting the struggle many poorer families have feeding their children during the holidays are nothing new.

Every summer, charities produce reports detailing parents going without meals so their children can eat.

But the intervention of Mr Rashford made that cause mainstream.

When the young footballer says there is more to do, he'll draw fist-pumping and applause from those working on the front line.

Firstly the scheme only covers this summer holiday. Secondly only those already on free school meals will be eligible.

That means any family who falls into enough hardship to qualify - an income of less than £7,400 before benefits - between now and the end of term, will not receive those precious food parcels.

And with three million new claimants for Universal Credit since lockdown began and more redundancies on the horizon, there will be questions as to whether this really is enough.

A "wave of unease amongst Conservative MPs over the handling of this latest U-turn" is likely to be aired later, when the prime minister meets the executive of the backbench 1922 committee for the first time since the general election in December, says BBC Newsnight's political editor Nicholas Watt.

One MP told him the issue had been "visible from outer space", while a cabinet minister criticised Mr Johnson's top aide, Dominic Cummings, and said the issue of meal vouchers "should have been dealt with a week ago" when raised during Prime Minister's Questions.

Who is Marcus Rashford?

Image source, Reuters
  • Came through the ranks at Manchester United, having grown up in the city and joined the club at the age of seven
  • At the age of 18, he was named as a sub for a Europa League tie against Midtjylland, but was drafted into the starting line-up when Anthony Martial was injured in the warm-up
  • He went on to score two goals in that match, breaking George Best's record as Manchester United's youngest ever scorer in European competition,
  • That immediate impact meant he made his Premier League debut against Arsenal three days later
  • He has now scored 64 goals in 137 matches for the club
  • He scored three minutes into his England debut against Australia
  • He played for England at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, where he converted a penalty in the famous shoot-out win over Colombia
  • At the age of 22, he now has 38 England caps (more than World Cup winners George Cohen, Jack Charlton, Roger Hunt and Nobby Stiles) and has scored 10 international goals

It comes amid heightened concern over the effects of the lockdown on livelihoods.

On Tuesday, official figures suggested the number claiming work-related benefits - which includes the unemployed - was up 126% to 2.8 million, with analysts suggesting poorer areas were being hit hardest.

Charities say research among 3,105 parents suggests half of families receiving universal credit or child tax credit in June had fallen behind with rent or other bills.

Seven in 10 of those surveyed for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Save the Children said they had cut back on food and other essentials.

The pressure on families was highlighted by Mr Rashford in an emotional open letter to MPs posted on Monday. The 22-year-old drew on his own experience of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up in Manchester.

In the BBC Breakfast interview, he revealed that his mother called him "about 10 times" when his campaign was in the news and he said it was "nice to see her smiling" about the result.

"When she was going through [the hardship], if someone had spoken about it then maybe the situation would've been different," he said.

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