- England striker Marcus Rashford has convinced the UK government to provide free school meals during the summer holidays.
- Rashford, who received free meals as a child, said kids would go hungry if the vouchers stopped at the end of term.
- Children are going hungry around the world as pandemic lockdowns halt economies.
- Visits to food banks have doubled during the crisis.
On the field, Manchester United and England player Marcus Rashford is an accomplished striker. But he’s just claimed an important off-the-field victory by persuading the UK government to provide free meals for 1.3 million children this summer.
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Rashford called on his 2.9 million Twitter followers in a campaign based on his experience of receiving free school meals while growing up in a single-parent family. He said his victory proved what people could do when they came together.
Most children who qualify for free school meals in the UK have been receiving food vouchers while schools have been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the scheme was due to stop over the summer holidays – prompting Rashford to speak out.
In an open letter to UK MPs he said: “The government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.”
Praising his mother’s efforts to feed her family while earning minimum, wage he wrote: “As a family we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us.”
The campaign swiftly bore fruit with the UK government performing a U-turn and agreeing to provide food vouchers throughout the summer break the day after Rashford’s letter was posted on Twitter.
The number of families using food banks in the UK has doubled during the lockdown, according to figures from the Trussell Trust, a charity which runs 1,200 food banks across the country. With UK unemployment hitting 2.8 million in May, the Trust urged more support for the most vulnerable.
UK food charity FareShare says it has been distributing food for an extra 1 million meals a week since the crisis started, and that families and children in need will require 40% more food aid this year because of the impact of the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, the World Food Programme reported that millions of children were going to school hungry around the world and millions more, particularly girls, were missing out on education altogether because they were helping to feed their families.
In New York, the city education department has set up free food hubs for families as campaigners estimate that one in four children could go hungry in the United States this summer due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
France doubled the number of free school breakfasts and $1 meals available in its schools just before the lockdown and in Italy the government has pledged $400 million worth of food vouchers after reports the Mafia was handing out free food to families in need.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?
The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.
As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.
To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.
Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.
In India, charities have launched COVID-19 emergency food programmes, providing free meals to tens of millions of families whose breadwinners have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
And in Viet Nam, entrepreneur Hoang Tuan Anh has invented a “rice ATM”, which automatically dispenses 1.5 kilogrammes of free rice – enough to feed a family for a day – to those in need. The 24-hour dispensers have been set up in Ho Chi Minh City and three other big cities.