When Marcus Rashford’s phone rang last weekend after the game against Liverpool, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on the line. They had had a “good talk”, the footballer said afterwards – which is probably an understatement.
Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp described as “absolutely incredible” the performance of the 23-year-old striker, who is under contract with Manchester United and plays for the English national team. For the second time since the start of the Corona pandemic, the British government stepped in last week and responded to a campaign by the player with millions in aid. Rashford is committed to providing food for the poorest English school children during the crisis, launched a petition and wrote a letter to all MPs. Almost 1.7 million children were to be provided with food in their schools during the pandemic, including during the holidays. The government now agreed to support the most needy families with an aid programme of 170 million pounds (about 189 million euros) until March.
The decision was preceded by an exchange of blows between Manchester’s number 10 and the government at London’s 10, Downing Street. A Tory deputy had feared that more free school meals would transfer the responsibility of parents for their children to the state. Another had argued that the extra cost could harm the currency and that if the economy and the pound were ruined, the poor would be worse off.Rashford replied on Twitter: “The economy is already paying a high price for starving children. If children were properly fed, their learning and overall life chances would improve. He cited an earlier study by cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s, which found that the UK economy was losing £5.2 million (about €5.8 million) a year because teachers were caring for hungry children instead of teaching them. He himself had said in a BBC interview that he was often hungry “at a time when a child should be concentrating on school.
“Rashford himself grew up in poverty with four brothers and sisters with his single mother. Food was not always available, he told the BBC in a video interview, many things were rationed. The fact that he joined a football support programme at the age of eleven – younger than planned – and received regular meals there changed his life. “I don’t want any child to go through what I went through and no parents to go through what my mother went through.”
The opposition Labour Party supported Rashford’s cause and introduced a bill in parliament in October for free school meals, but it was rejected. However, parts of the ruling Tories did not want to follow the Prime Minister’s “hard-hearted” course. One Conservative MP resigned her job as parliamentary secretary because of remorse, several abstained in the vote, which is already considered a minor revolt. A Tory MP told the British “Guardian” that it was a “political disaster” in handling and said he had “never seen so many Conservative MPs so angry”. A government spokesman, on the other hand, justified the course with the words: “It is not the role of schools to provide meals for students during the holidays.
But Rashford received sufficient support: BBC sports presenter and ex-footballer Gary Lineker, for example, defied demands for impartiality and tweeted after parliament rejected the plan: “Yesterday they voted against feeding our hungriest children during the pandemic. After nationwide protests by pediatricians, British stars and over half a million signatures on Rashford’s petition, the government finally changed course and approved the 170 million.
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