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Marcus Rashford pleads for Government rethink on free school meal vouchers

The Manchester United and England striker has written an emotional open letter to MPs calling for free meals to continue through the summer holidays.

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Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has written an open letter to MPs calling for the food voucher scheme to be extended for the summer holidays.

Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has written an open letter to MPs calling for the food voucher scheme to be extended for the summer holidays.

Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has written an open letter to MPs calling for the food voucher scheme to be extended for the summer holidays.

Marcus Rashford has pleaded with the Government to reconsider its decision not to extend the current food voucher scheme in an open letter “written from the heart”.

The 22-year-old Manchester United and England striker urged the authorities to make a U-turn and allow vulnerable children who have been getting free meals during the coronavirus lockdown to continue receiving them in the summer holidays.

Rashford, who has raised £20million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, has admitted to using food banks and receiving free meals as a child.

He wants to help the families that need it the most, knowing how it felt to go hungry.

“It’s written from the heart and it’s about how my life was at the moment – the letter is to open up and let people understand the impact on families and to know I’ve done the right thing,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that – and it’s very difficult to find a way out. It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change – that’s why I wrote it.

“In the past I have done a lot of work to do with children. When I heard about the schools shutting down that obviously means free meals for some kids that they are not getting at schools.

“I remember when I was in school I was on free meals and my mum wouldn’t get home until 6 o’clock, so my next meal would have been about 8 o’clock.

“I was fortunate, there are kids in much more difficult situations that don’t get that meal at home.

“When I heard the schools were closing I wanted to make a positive influence and make sure the kids are getting the meals they need.”

Rashford has earned praise for taking a firm stance, having been one of the leading figures in helping people during the coronavirus pandemic.

In his letter he 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 from not having 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.”

Downing Street said Boris Johnson will reply to Rashford’s letter as “soon as he can” and praised the footballer for “using his profile in a positive way to highlight some very important issues”.

Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister understands the issues facing families across the UK which is why last week the Government announced an additional £63million for local authorities to benefit families who are struggling to afford food and other basic essentials.

“The PM also set out that as schools open more widely and their kitchens reopen, we expect them to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to schools.

“Where that is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer praised Rashford’s letter, calling it “important and moving”.

“Thank you, Marcus, for all the work you are doing to support children during the coronavirus crisis,” said in a Tweet.

PA