Marcus Rashford said he was disappointed by the government’s response to its calls for further action against child food poverty.
The footballer said a letter from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson showed “a lack of empathy … to protect the most vulnerable”.
Mr Williamson said the government was committed to supporting those in need, but not fully supporting the Child Food Poverty task force.
Rashford, 22, urged lawmakers to go further in tackling hunger in families.
Manchester United striker successfully campaigned to extend free school meals this summer, encouraging the government to change this problem.
Earlier this month, he continued his campaign, forming a task force with some of the UK’s biggest food retailers such as Tesco, Asda and the charity FareShare.
The Task Force called for the three policy changes – recommended by the National Food Strategy review – to be funded by the government as quickly as possible.
In his written response, Gavin Williamson highlighted existing government schemes to fight food poverty, including food packages, voucher schemes and summer food funds.
But the education secretary stopped providing government support on the back of calls to expand free school meals for all households with Universal Credit – and two other important recommendations.
‘I recognize that you and the Child Food Poverty Task Force support three recommendations in the National Food Strategy relating to food for low-income families.
“The government will carefully consider each recommendation in the report as we approach the next spending review.”
Rashford, who presented Mr Williamson’s letter to the BBC, said: “I am disappointed by the lack of empathy shown in recent weeks to protect the future of our most vulnerable nation.
“I don’t have a politician education, I never claim to have all the answers – but I do have a voice and I will continue to use it for the millions of unheard people.
“My encouragement and the Child Food Poverty Task Force to see these three government policies implemented without delay is stronger than before.
“I’m not interested in party politics. Leaving millions of children in Britain starve at night is just a humanitarian issue.
“We have to do better.”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the education electoral committee, described the government’s response to child food poverty as “lots of clothespins without laundry straps” – claiming individual food programs, although accepted, are not enough – and a national strategy is what is needed.
“What Marcus Rashford does is very important because he puts this issue into national consciousness,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Asked if the government’s response was too slow, Halfon said: “This is the major social injustice that childhood famine occurs in our country.
“The government needs to take this very seriously and make it a priority.”
He urged the government to immediately extend free school meals during school holidays, saying funds from the sugar tax would cover costs and no additional money was needed.
The Child Food Poverty Task Force encourages the government to fund three policy recommendations by the National Food Strategy:
- Extending free school meals for each child from a household with Universal Credit or its equivalent, to reach an additional 1.5 million children aged seven to 16
- Expand existing school holiday meals and activities programs to support all children with free school meals in all regions of the UK rather than the current 50,000 children being helped
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers – which help parents with children under four and pregnant women buy some basic foodstuffs – from £ 3.10 to £ 4.25 per week, and extend them to all with Universal Credit or equivalent, achieve an additional 290,000 people
Mr Rashford previously described a successful summer campaign to extend free school meals as a “short-term solution” to stopping starving children, but said it was “not going to work in the long term”.
“We have to think about the best way to do it, think about how this family can eat in the long term and not have problems,” he said.
During the coronavirus lockdown in the spring, the government gave vouchers to families whose children were eligible for free food, but insisted that this would not continue into the summer holidays.
This prompted British footballer Rashford, who has spoken of his own experience of using a food voucher scheme as a child, to write to lawmakers in June asking the government to overturn his decision.
The U-turn allows around 1.3 million children in the UK to claim vouchers over the holidays, with support provided around £ 15 a week for each child.
What is child food poverty and how much does it affect it?
With Reality Check
- The Ministry of Health defines food poverty, also known as food insecurity, as the inability to buy, or have access to, food to make a healthy diet.
- Last year, the government announced it would start measuring food insecurity through Family Resource Survey and the data will be available starting in 2021
- Earlier this year, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Food Foundation suggested that 2.4 million (17%) children live in food insecure households.
- Poor nutrition is recognized as a factor in the performance of children at school and students whose parents receive certain benefits are eligible for it Free School Meals.
- In the UK, around 1.3 million children claim Free School Meals in 2019 – around 15% of students are state educated.
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