SEATTLE, Washington — As COVID-19 persists, nations across the globe have been instituting stricter regulations regarding business practices as well as regional and international travel. Furthermore, schools closed to avoid mass contagion among children and adolescents. While many might think of this as a welcomed vacation for students, many families worldwide rely on public schools to provide two out of the three standard meals of the day. As the mass shut down of schools continue, these families now turn toward government aid to support their children.
Unfortunately, as citizens worldwide enter into the fourth month of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, problems begin to arise as government-funded programs shorten and schools remain closed. English football star Marcus Rashford voiced his concern for these children and advocated for the continuation of school meals on their behalf.
The United Kingdom’s Food Voucher System
After the mass closure of schools, the U.K. government quickly established a “food voucher scheme” which in theory would “guarantee meals to children when schools were shut down.” The government did not expect this program to last into June, let alone July. The government announced that on July 1 the program would promptly shut down.
According to Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, “Schools are the first line of defense against hunger.” Without schools reopening in Britain, more than a million children who qualify for free or reduced lunches will be left to fend for themselves in a very uncertain time.
Hunger and Food Waste in the UK
The broader issue causing this ripple effect is that 8.4 million people in the U.K. are food insecure. Furthermore, 1.9 million tonnes of food goes to waste every year in the U.K. These two staggering statistics paint a clear picture of a poverty-stricken population struggling to feed not only themselves but their children.
“If it is a week off, many can scrape along, but a month would be a significant amount of time. By the second week, you haven’t got any money or food,” said Donna Sealey, a representative from the Bristol-based charity Ambition Lawrence Weston food project, in an interview with The Guardian. Amid the pandemic, school-based food programs and the U.K. government-sponsored voucher system has become a necessity for citizens.
Who is Marcus Rashford?
As the clock started winding down on the voucher system, people became more and more agitated, wondering if and when schools would reopen. Then, in an evening tweet on June 14, 2020, Marcus Rashford published an open letter to all representatives in the English Parliament demanding they reconsider extending the voucher system until COVID-19 regulations allowed schools to reopen.
Rashford is a 22-year old English soccer player currently on the roster of the Premier League team, Manchester United, and the English National Team. This is not his first time advocating on behalf of children struggling with hunger. Earlier this year, Rashford partnered with the nonprofit FareShare to raise 20 million pounds which would go toward food distribution in hunger-stricken communities in the U.K.
In Rashford’s open letter to the English Parliament, he discusses the planned suspension of the government-sponsored voucher system. He outlines how devastating the repercussions of the suspension would be, citing that it is not only the children relying on these programs but also parents who have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a system failure and without education, we’re encouraging this cycle of hardship to continue. […] In England today, 45% of children in Black and minority ethnic groups are now in poverty. This is England in 2020,” said Rashford in his letter. He then goes on to recount his own childhood: “Ten years ago, I would have been one of those children, and you would never have heard my voice and seen my determination to become part of the solution.”
Rashford’s compelling letter drew the attention of not just local Parliament members, but also U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson released a public statement acknowledging Rashford’s letter and furthermore instituted an extension to the current voucher system. Now being called “The U-Turn,” this new strategy extends the current system by an additional six weeks at the cost of 120 million pounds. Rashford once again took to Twitter amending his previous statement and applauding the efficiency of the government in responding to his call for action. He goes on to say, “Look at what we can do when we come together” and, “This is England in 2020.”
FareShare and Looking Forward to Ending Child Hunger
While the extension of the program and other government-aided assistance has helped U.K.’s poverty population, the fight against child hunger continues in the U.K. Numerous nonprofit and humanitarian organizations are working around the clock to continue regular programs as well as combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
FareShare is one such program that has also previously worked alongside Rashford. FareShare focuses on the redistribution of food waste to communities in need, providing meals to individuals instead of throwing out excess food. In the past year, FareShare reported more than 24,000 tonnes of food redistributed, 57.3 million meals provided and 933,178 people supported per week. This extensive network is expanding on Marcus Rashford’s advocacy and continuing to support individuals and communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Elizabeth Price
Photo: Wikimedia Commons