By Esme Bateson, MA Cultural Studies
In a roller coaster of events, English striker Marcus Rashford celebrated as £170 million has been granted to English councils to prevent children going hungry over the Winter Holidays.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the money will support families across 2021 too, and help increase Healthy Start payments, a scheme aimed to help low budget families buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
The U-turn followed the shocking decision earlier in the year, where Rashford’s Labour supported motion was initially rejected by 322 votes to 261. Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson stated that poor families were already being supported by the benefit system.
Subsequent provision from English businesses and local councils in the wake of the Commons’ rejection to ensure children did not go hungry over the October half term demonstrated national anger towards the decision. England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield OBE, highlighted that ‘hunger does not take a holiday when schools close and a long-term solution to the growing number of children in poverty is urgently required.’
However for Kate Green, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, the timing of the government’s u-turn, which fell after the autumn break, was appalling. Green stated that ministers had ‘created needless and avoidable hardship for families across the country’. Nevertheless, Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, believed it to be a win, stating ‘this new scheme is a lifeline for vulnerable families who are struggling to feed their families and heat their homes this winter. It will also help prevent ‘holiday hunger’ throughout 2021.’
Rashford was quick to offer praise of the government’s change of heart: ‘following the game today, I had a good conversation with the Prime Minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK’.
He continued by saying that ‘there is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough, but the intent the Government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.’
However, the debacle uncovered another food issue. Members of Parliament (MPS) voting down free meals for the nation’s impoverished children has been argued as ‘farcical’ since taxpayers subsidise the daily lunch of MPS and Peers. Currently, £57,000 a week is how much taxpayers subsidise the food and drink, including alcohol, across the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Following their snub of food vouchers for kids, costing just £15 a week in comparison, a new campaign arose proclaiming the need to end subsidised meals for MPs and Peers. One supporter stated ‘MPs have had a pay rise, and they have subsidised food. They have voted against the NHS nurses and the poorest of us from getting these things too. They are utterly shameless in denying children food during this very difficult time, yet continue to benefit from the privileges of their office.’
‘In an era of layoffs and pay cuts due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis, it seems that MPs still continue to gain, despite directly going against aid for lower income members of society, who need the support the most.’
With Ribeye steak on sale for £9.19, considerably lower than the commercial price, it is estimated that the general public fund £7.60 for every £10 an MP spends on lunch. When such low prices were questioned in 2010, it was promised that the subsidy would be cut by £500,000. In reality, it has risen by nearly 20% since then. In an era of layoffs and pay cuts due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis, it seems that MPs still continue to gain, despite directly going against aid for lower income members of society, who need the support the most.
Further, during the summer, the paint job to Johnson’s prime ministerial aircraft cost the taxpayer a staggering £900,000. In an interview with LBC Radio, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated that it was in fact ‘good value for money’.
However, with Rashford on their side, Britain’s struggling youth have a hero both on and off the pitch. ‘These children are the future of this country; they are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that’, Rashford stated.
Rashford has since announced he will be setting up a book club for all children to experience the joy of reading and appreciate the value of education. Within the book club, Rashford will emphasise the importance of female role models and promote literacy in lower socio-economic groups.
Photo Caption: Marcus Rashford ‘scores’ for a second time in his campaign against child hunger in Britain (Credit: The Metro).