By Declan Carey
MARCUS Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals can inspire long-term change in Britain – but it must be about more than school dinners.
The England and Manchester United star made the issue a national story when he called for the government to increase access to the scheme and provide meals during holidays.
More than 15 per cent of secondary pupils in England qualify, with numbers increasing since 2017 proving the problem is getting worse, not better.
Countries which offer free school meals to all pupils tend to have higher achieving students with better life outcomes.
Finland has offered free school meals since the 1940s. It also has significantly lower levels of underachievement compared to the EU average.
While in the UK children who receive free school meals make less progress than their peers.
There is an urgent need to provide food and stop children from going hungry in this country, but the campaign must go further by demanding an end to the root causes of poverty.
Since 2012, the rate of people living in poverty in England has increased according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
A combination of factors contribute, including low-paid work, an ineffective benefits system and discrimination.
And while it was an inhumane choice made by the 322 Tory Members of Parliament (MPs) who voted against extending free school meals last Wednesday, that would have only been a temporary fix.
Marcus Rashford and other high profile figures should go further and demand an end to jobs that don’t pay enough, and revamp our confusing social security system.
If you don’t follow him on Twitter, you may have missed retweets of councils, businesses and groups offering meals for children around England and Wales.
People listen to Rashford because he has lived the experience of childhood hardship having grown up in a low-income family in Manchester.
But it would be a huge shame for ordinary people, many of whom are struggling themselves, to give up what little they have to plug the gaps.
In order to really make progress, Rashford should keep pushing his campaign and use his platform to highlight the high levels of inequality in Britain.
The good work he has done has to go further and ensure long-term change to prevent future generations facing the same problem.
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