Marcus Rashford has urged MPs to “find your humanity” and reverse the government’s decision to cut the current food voucher scheme over the summer holidays.
The scheme was set up to effectively guarantee meals to those children who would have ordinarily been reliant on free school meals during the coronavirus lockdown.
But Manchester United and England forward Rashford, who has helped raise £20m to supply three million meals with the charity FareShare, has raised concerns the plan to end the scheme next month will affect some of the most vulnerable in society.
In a powerful open letter to MPs, Rashford wrote: “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.
“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020, and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance.
“Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”
Rashford has previously spoken about how his family relied on breakfast clubs and free school meals as a child, and does not want other children to miss out on opportunities if they do not have access to similar schemes.
He added: “As a Black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic.
“Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbours, and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances and caps.
“I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”
On June 8 the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, warned chancellor Rishi Sunak that his decision not to fund free school meals this summer appears “uncaring and lacking in compassion”.
Longfield has urged the government to step in and contrasted its wider £132bn package of support for workers and business with the relatively small cost of continuing a voucher scheme that helps poorer parents feed their children.
Data suggests that Covid-19 has already seen 300,000 children descend into poverty, during a parliament that was already predicted to see the highest rates of child poverty on record, she said.
“At a time when more families are facing pressures than ever before, and so many other sources of support are behind closed doors, the decision not to continue free school meals over the summer holidays appears uncaring and lacking in compassion,” Longfield said.
“It reflects very poorly on the importance the government places on children that within £132bn of spending you cannot find a few million pounds to keep children fed.”