London (AFP) – Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford said on Wednesday he would keep fighting to help low-income families after his campaign forced the British government to change its policy on providing free school meals for the poorest children.
The 22-year-old England forward drew on his own experience of growing up in poverty to demand more help for those struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown.
After initially resisting the change, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday confirmed that 1.3 million children in England would continue to receive meal vouchers over the six-week summer holidays.
Rashford said he was “grateful” for the decision, and revealed he thanked the prime minister in a phone call.
But he told the BBC: “I don’t want this to be the end of it because there are more steps that need to be taken, and we just need to analyse the response.
“People are struggling all year around, so we still need to learn more about the situation people are in and how we can help them best.”
Rashford’s campaign drew support from politicians, charities and education leaders — including members of Johnson’s Conservative party.
His victory was splashed across the front pages of Britain’s newspapers on Wednesday, with The Sun headlining “Result!” and the Daily Star declaring “Rashers for PM!”
Rashford welcomed the support, but said the most meaningful backing came from closer to home.
He revealed his mother had called him “about 10 times” when his campaign was in the news and said it was “nice to see her smiling” about the result.
Rashford has spoken about how hard his mother worked to pay the bills, and how they relied on free school meals, food banks and the support of friends.
“When she was going through (the hardship), if someone had spoken about it then maybe the situation would’ve been different,” he said.
Johnson told a media conference on Tuesday that extending the meal scheme beyond July was “the right thing to do, and it will help the kids from the families who really need it”.
While free school meals were by definition a term-time programme, he said “we have to understand the pressures families are under right now and that’s why we’ve responded as we have”.
Downing Street has said the scheme will cost £120 million.