Hungry pupils can’t concentrate: Rashford plea to DfE

England footballer Marcus Rashford launches a petition urging ministers to do more to tackle pupil hunger and poverty
15th October 2020, 10:00am


Hungry pupils can’t concentrate: Rashford plea to DfE
Marcus Rashford Has Launched A Petition Calling For Action To Tackle Child Hunger & Poverty

Marcus Rashford has launched a petition urging the government to act now to tackle the hunger that is leaving pupils with "rumbling stomachs" struggling to concentrate in class.

The Manchester United and England footballer is pressing ministers to go further and introduce a package of measures to combat hunger and poverty for pupils who are starting to "question what it really means to be British".

The parliamentary petition is calling for three policy recommendations from the National Food Strategy to be implemented without delay - including expanding free school meals to all households on universal credit.

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"For too long this conversation has been delayed. Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of Covid-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children," Mr Rashford said.

Child poverty: tackling pupil hunger

The move comes after the England striker - honoured with an MBE at the weekend - forced a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays.

Since then, he has formed a child food poverty task force, which has linked up with some of the UK's biggest supermarkets and food brands.

Mr Rashford said: "Right now, a generation who have already been penalised during this pandemic with lack of access to educational resources are now back in school struggling to concentrate due to worry and the sound of their rumbling stomachs.

"Whatever your feeling, opinion or judgment, food poverty is never the child's fault. Let's protect our young. Let's wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children."

Charity the Food Foundation has released data suggesting that nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of eight- to 17-year-olds reported experiences of food insecurity over the summer holidays.

Extrapolated to reflect the UK population, this suggests that 1.4 million children are experiencing food insecurity.

Mr Rashford said: "Today, millions of children are finding themselves in the most vulnerable of environments and are beginning to question what it really means to be British.

"I'm calling on you all today to help me prove to them that being British is something to be proud of."

The other two demands in the petition include expanding school holiday food and activities programmes to more families and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week (from £3.10).

The Food Foundation survey, of more than 1,000 children, showed that 6 per cent were worried about going hungry during the October half-term, and 11 per cent said either they or their families had visited a food bank in the summer break.

Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, said: "School holidays are a financial pressure point which many families just can't afford at the moment. Hunger does not take a holiday.

"The government needs to put in place a permanent solution to school holiday hunger and implement the recommendations in the National Food Strategy.

"While children have been spared the virus, they have not been spared it's economic impacts and we must act to protect them."

A government spokeswoman said: "We have taken substantial action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry, extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were closed, extending our welfare support by £9.3 billion, funding councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals through allocating £63 million to councils who are distributing it to those in need.

"We know it has been a challenging time for families, which is why we have increased the safety net available to them with income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and support for renters.

"We have also supported thousands of young people through our summer Holiday Activities and Food programme and extended our Breakfast Clubs programme to run over the summer."

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