My friend, MP Ian Byrne, is a massive Liverpool supporter. Now you don’t need to be a football fan to know that when he talked up Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford before the Liverpool-United game the other day, something different was going on. And it was. Ian was promoting Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign as well as the support of Liverpool fans for Fans Supporting Foodbanks campaign. And it’s great that these campaigns bring together supporters from two teams who wouldn’t normally agree on what the time of day was. But child poverty brings us starkly together. It is great that a young footballer who experienced poverty growing up, is spearheading the campaign on this. And of course, it’s incredibly sad that in this, the 5th richest country in the world, children are going hungry. And it’s just plain wrong.
And it’s plain wrong when private companies use child poverty and hunger to turn a dodgy profit. Very few amongst us had ever heard of Chartwells, the company outed by Marcus Rashford for providing meals for children supposedly worth £30 but whose real cost was a maximum £5.52. But their corporate group chair until December, was a Tory party donor. I suppose he could afford to be.
Food should be a right and no child should go to bed hungry in modern Britain. That makes the row about providing free school meals all the year round for families who need it, a matter of huge public concern – and it isn’t going to go away. On Monday this week, Labour moved two motions in Parliament; one said children in need should have those free meals, the other said that the £20 top-up for those on Universal Credit should stay. Both these measures would ease the burden on our most needy families. Not a lot to ask. Not too much to find.
Now Prime Minister Johnson has a majority of over 80 in the House of Commons so he and his chums can win all the votes. But did our Prime Minister wade in to support these motions or even give reasons why he opposed them and vote them down? No, he did neither. Mr Johnson is developing a reputation for indecision and both he and his backbench pals sat on their hands. We need a Prime Minister who’ll take a stand for those in need, who understands what it’s like to be hard up and who’ll speak up for them. That’s not this Prime Minister. What’s Marcus Rashford doing when he’s not playing football?
This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 23 January 2021.