When you think about child poverty, you might associate the term with third world countries. However, many prosperous countries also cope with the same hardship. Great Britain is no exception. An estimated 4.1 million children live in poverty. That causes many problems, one of the major ones being not able to feed them properly. That is why people take action. Some focus on nutrient value, like Jamie Oliver, while others focus on the financial aspect, like Marcus Rashford.

Written by Lotte Zoet and Iza Radinem de Bruin

Roughly 1.3 million children in England claimed free school lunches last year, which is around 15 per cent of pupils in state schools. The Food Foundation estimated that another 900,000 kids newly registered for school meals since the Covid-19 crisis hit the UK.

And that it no surprise, tells Martin Caraher, professor of food and health policy at University of London: “The situation is pretty serious. Ever since Covid-19 arrived here, we’ve seen a fivefold increase of families and poverty.”

Dr Megan Blake, a senior lecturer from the University of Sheffield who works on food insecurity, confirms this: “What we’ve seen since Covid-19, really, is that families feed their children first, so parents will go without food to ensure their children have something to eat but we’re seeing children now having to skip meals. So it’s getting worse.”

That’s where Marcus Rashford, a 23-year-old footballer for Manchester United, comes in. He fights for every child to go to sleep without an empty stomach. Ever since the corona crisis started back in March, British pupils were all send home, with the result that they didn’t get their free school lunch. For families that barley get by, that’s a big problem. Rashford uses his platform to raise awareness for this matter, he started a petition. And with success: he managed to convince the British government to fund 1,7 million children’s meals for the next year. A major accomplishment, yet only a short-term solution.

But not only celebrities try to make a change. Various organisations have been fighting for proper meals for children for years. Take Feeding Britain for example: A charity whose goal is to relieve and prevent hunger in the United Kingdom. They provide meals and activities for children and families during school holidays, establish ‘social supermarkets’ which provide low-cost food, commissions specialist advice with benefits and debt to help people increase their income, and have more recently been supporting the emergency delivery of food packages to people in need. And they’ve made quite a few accomplishments, says Andrew Forsey, National Director of Feeding Britain: “More than 2 million meals have been distributed across our network since March.”

Fastforward to June, and a certain footballer from Manchester United makes the headlines with his campaign.

In June Marcus Rashford, started a campaign to encourage the government to reverse a decision not to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer. In response to this campaign, the government set up a ‘Covid summer food fund’. This already helped a lot of households. Marcus Rashford fights for this matter, because he used to rely on free school lunches too. He said: ‘’the system isn’t built for families like mine to succeed.’’  

In October the problem rose once again. Whereas most kids had food during the summer, winter is coming. A motion on providing kids with free school lunches until Easter 2021 was voted down.  

October 14: Marcus Rashford launches a petition 
With his petition, Marcus Rashford is asking for three main things:  

  • Expand free school meals to all children under 16 years old where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (payment to help with your living costs) 
  • Provide meals and activities during all holidays  
  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to at least 4.25 pounds per week and expand the scheme. The value of a voucher in October was £3.10 

The petition mainly focuses on the situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic. It says that the government should make sure that the children don’t pay the price. However, the reality isn’t that fortunate. Some statistics show that 14% of the parents and 10% of the children have experienced food poverty over the last six months.  

32% of all the families have lost income because of the pandemic, and that increases the ask for food from food banks. The demand is 61% higher during this winter than last winter.  

Within a few hours the petition was already signed by 140.000 people.  

October 21the MPs debated whether the school lunches should be free in the upcoming holidays. This Labour motion was rejected. Rashford responded to this. He said: ‘’Child food poverty has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country ever faced. These children matter and for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.’’   

October 23: local businesses across Britain are stepping up against the fight of child hunger. They are willing to give out free meals to children. Marcus is using his Twitter account to promote the local businesses. Almost every town has someone that provides free meals for kids. Marcus himself said that he was ‘blown away’ by all the help from people all across the country.   

October 26 Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks out. He said: ‘’We are uplifting the Universal Credit by a thousand pounds. We believe that this is the best way you can help families in these tough times. I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there and we have to deal with it. We don’t want to see children going hungry.’’  

 Action speak louder than words. He still didn’t provide the children free school lunches. That’s why the pressure on the Prime Minister has increased. His own MP’s are turning against him in this fight. 

October 29 in the meantime, over one million people have signed Marcus’ petition. The pressure is increasing.  

November 8the government announced a care package. Part of their response was: ‘’With Christmas coming, we want to give disadvantaged families peace of mind and help those who need it to have food on the table and other essentials so every child will be warm and well-fed this winter.’’ 

The government will spend 170 million pounds in support for unprivileged families during the winter. Prime minister Boris Johnson also confirmed 220 million pounds for a holiday activity programme. This will include meals for the participants and will cover the whole country during the biggest holidays in 2021. 

Marcus Rashford was overwhelmed with pride and said: ‘’the steps made today will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next twelve months. That can only be celebrated.’’  

This is only a short term solution. Experts agree that a long term solution is necessary:

Communities all over the UK come together to help the children. The Bell Banbury is no exception.

Marcus Rashford is using his Twitter account to spread awareness of child hunger. He tweets about a lot of restaurants that hand out free food to children in their area. The Bell Banbury is an example. They posted a message on their Facebook page saying: ‘’We have been throughly touched by Marcus Rashford’s campaign to help children and having children ourselves we would never see the local children go hungry…Or any child in that matter.’’    

Tomas Salan is the owner of Bell Banbury. He is very glad that he could provide some children with free food. ‘’We are very close with our community. We live in a not so wealthy area. We open our doors normally at twelve, so it wasn’t hard for us to open a bit earlier to provide breakfast to start with. They had pancakes for breakfast and a bowl of cereal with a cotton of juice. They also got a lunch pack with a sandwich and a few other snacks. They were really happy and grateful.’’ 

Salan does think that the food poverty is a big problem in the UK. ‘’It kind of breaks my heart that we live in 2020 and people still have to do this. Obviously if the children haven’t eaten, most of the time you will find that the parents also haven’t eaten for a long time. We also provide the parents with for example a sausage or bacon sandwich with a cup of coffee or tea as well,’’ tells Salan  

Providing children with free food is something that the Bell Banbury wants to do regularly. ‘’If the government won’t make a U-turn in December, we will provide the kids with free school lunches until the summer holidays. Because we are the heart of the community we’ve had quite a few donations from our loyal customer base. Its nice to see that the community comes together.’’