• 2.4 million UK children live in homes where there isn’t always enough food.
  • Footballer Marcus Rashford has already forced government policy change.
  • Now he is teaming up with charities and food companies.

Not content with forcing a government U-turn on free school meals, footballer Marcus Rashford is continuing to tackle the problem of child food poverty in the UK.

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the UK has more than 14 million people living below the poverty line – and of those, 4.6 million are children. The number of people who rely on foodbanks to feed themselves and their families is also on the increase.

The Manchester United and England striker has now formed a task force with some of the biggest UK retailers – including Tesco, Waitrose and Aldi – as well as charities helping those struggling to get enough to eat.

food banks united kingdom uk food poverty children football marus rashford
Foodbank use in the UK has soared.
Image: Statista

The Child Food Poverty Task Force was announced on Rashford’s Twitter account. It has three policy aims:

  • Extending the eligibility criteria for free schools meals, to include an extra 1.5 million children.
  • Making free food and free activities more widely available during school vacation periods.
  • Increasing the value of meal vouchers, and making them available to more people.

U-turn on free school meals

Back in June, he led the call for an extension of a government free lunch scheme for school-aged children. Free school meals are available to children from low-income or single-parent families. But the scheme was due to be closed during the long summer school vacation period. Until Rashford stepped in and forced the government to rethink its plans.

Rashford said he knew almost immediately that the short-term win needed to be followed up by a coordinated plan of attack. “We had to think about the best way to do it, to think about how these families can eat long-term and not have any issues,” he said.

Research conducted on behalf of the charity Food Foundation concluded that during the COVID-19 lockdown there were around 2.4 million UK children living in households where there wasn’t always enough to eat. It also found that more than 200,000 children had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access sufficient food since the start of lockdown.

Malnutrition – a global problem

The consequences of food insecurity can be especially dire for children, according to a report from UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2019. It says “poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death” are among the risks facing children who are not being properly fed.

Globally, around one-third of children under the age of five are either undernourished or overweight, the report says. That’s a total of approximately 200 million children.

In addition:

  • 340 million children lack essential nutrients, including vitamin A and iron.
  • 149 million children are too short for their age.
  • 50 million children are too thin for their height.
  • 40 million children are overweight or obese.

By bringing together voices from charities and experts from the food industry, Rashford says he hopes to be able to make a bigger difference. “We wanted to do it the best way we could, introduce the best people into our group, and see if using them [we] can push it even more,” he told the BBC. He has talked openly about his own childhood circumstances, and how important a voucher-based food support programme had been to his family.

Aged just 22, Marcus Rashford made his debut for Manchester United in the 2015/16 season and has played 214 games for the club, scoring 67 goals. He grew up in Manchester and describes himself as a life-long United fan. He has also played 38 times for England, scoring 10 goals.