Marcus Rashford has told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he is only at the beginning of his campaign to end child food poverty.
And the Manchester United star insists he won’t give up in his bid to make sure the next generation start life with a level playing field.
England ace Rashford, awarded an MBE in October in the delayed Queen’s Birthday Honours list, has used his platform in recent months to successfully shame the Governement to prevent children going hungry.
Rashford successfully lobbied the Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy in England during the first coronavirus lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive food over the summer.
And he has continued to hold the Government to account since, most recently leading the way this month in tackling the issues over poor-quality food parcels which have been sent out to families.
Rashford spearheaded demands for improvements to “hampers”, which are supposed to replace a £15-a-week shopping voucher scheme, but which one mother costed at being worth little over £5.
Rashford’s intervention led Johnson to assure that “a full review of the supply chain” is under way.
On Thursday, Rashford was honoured with the Football Writers’ Association 2021 Tribute Award in recognition of his outstanding campaign, which the FWA said “goes even wider than simply a football context”.
But Rashford isn’t resting on his laurels, and maintains there is still more work to be done.
“We are at the beginning of what I see as a long journey,” Rashford said, speaking to the FWA.
“I am definitely not at the stage of relief yet, I feel that there is a lot more which needs to be done and a lot more steps which need to be taken forward.
“On the positive side we have started to take a few steps in the right direction, but for me now just because we have done that (it) is not about just sitting back now and being happy with what we have done.
“It is about what is next in the chapter of these children’s lives.”
Rashford continued: “That is a big issue for me and my team who are working on it – the numbers who still don’t have the support they need.
“We know we have managed to reach a lot more people that weren’t getting reached, but there are still people out there who are really struggling.
“If we can make a five or 10 per cent difference to every single one of their lives, then it puts everyone at a good baseline and then we can start to work on foundations for the future.
“But until everyone is on the same playing field, it is difficult to start jumping ahead and asking for things that are necessary, but the timing would be wrong.
“We need to make sure everyone is on the same level first and then we can start to improve that level until they are where they belong.”
Rashford has also written to Johnson calling for an urgent review of the Government’s free school meals policy in the wake of the pandemic.
He has joined TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to urge the Government to develop a strategy to end child food poverty.
In their letter, backed by more than 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, they said the review should consider eligibility thresholds to ensure disadvantaged children are not excluded and how schools can be supported to deliver the best quality meals.
“This review would provide the Government with the opportunity to future-proof its policy on school food, and to carefully consider how best to support low-income children and families in the aftermath of the pandemic,” they said.
“School food is essential in supporting the health and learning of our most disadvantaged children.
“Now, at a time when children have missed months of in-school learning and the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our health, this is a vital next step.”
Former Old Trafford chief Sir Alex Ferguson has paid tribute to Rashford’s “truly amazing achievement”.
The legendary ex-United boss told the FWA: “Marcus has shown to young people in particular there is a different way of dealing with life.
“He has shown great humility, has shown courage to do what he did, so this achievement is well deserved and should be recognised with what he has done.”
And homegrown United product Rashford revealed Ferguson had helped encourage his campaign.
“Probably when other people in sports were telling me not to do it and just focus on football.
“He said if I believed in that, and I believe it is the right thing to do, then he is behind it.”
Timeline of Rashford’s crusade to end food poverty
April 2020: Rashford’s work with the charity Fareshare to distribute food to vulnerable children during the pandemic is revealed to have yielded £20million in donations from major supermarkets.
June 14: Calls on the government to reconsider its decision not to extend the existing food voucher system into the summer holidays, writing in an open letter: “The government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.”
June 16: Rashford’s campaign forces a U-turn from the government, which announces an extension of its free school meals scheme through the holidays. Prime Minister Boris Johnson praises Rashford’s campaign and admits it was “the right thing to do”.
July: Rashford, whose work with Fareshare has helped deliver four million meals to vulnerable children in the UK, becomes the youngest person to receive an honorary degree from The University of Manchester.
August: Announces he has teamed up with numerous leading supermarkets to form the ‘Child Food Poverty Task Force’, aimed at researching and ultimately ending child food poverty.
October 9: Made an MBE in the delayed 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and vows: “The fight to protect our most vulnerable children is far from over.”
October 10: Launches a petition urging the government to go further in tackling child hunger, increasing the pressure on the government to extend free school meals through the half-term and Christmas holidays.
November: Boris Johnson phones Rashford to announce another U-turn over free school meals, revealing £170m of extra funding will extend the scheme through Christmas after all; Rashford responds that he is “so proud” of those involved in the campaign.
December 2020: Receives a special award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards for his work raising awareness of child food poverty.
January 2021: Calls for an urgent review of the free school meals system after highlighting the dismal standard of some food parcels; nly has to wait a matter of hours before Johnson accepts the parcels are “disgraceful” and vows to resolve the issue.
Rashford later says: “We are at the beginning of what I see as a long journey.”