Footballers don't usually have the most stellar reputations off the pitch. But Marcus Rashford is one of the good ones - he's using his celebrity clout to really make a difference. When he suffered a double stress fracture in his back in January of 2020, his football career had to be sidelined for a while while he recovered.
On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown hit the UK shortly afterwards. But rather than feeling sorry for himself, Rashford realised he finally had some time to think about what was important to him as well as football. After reading an article in The Guardian announcing that the food voucher scheme was coming to an end, Rashford knew he had found his cause.
Rashford grew up as one of five children in a single parent family. He has vivid memories of food poverty during the school holidays - he would pretend to be full so that his mother, Melanie, who was working three jobs, would allow herself to eat. He knew that families such as his could not survive on just food banks.
He started fundraising for FareShare, a charity collecting surplus food, and raised more than £20 million for children's school meals. Rashford's campaigning on child food poverty was also directly responsible for two U-turns by Boris Johnson's government.
Rashford earned an MBE in October of 2020 after campaigning for months for the government to change its mind on food vouchers. No. 10 had initially rejected Rashford's plea to keep paying £15-a-week food vouchers for England's poorest families over the summer. Amid public outrage, the government eventually caved.
Then, in early November 2020, The Guardian reported that "Boris Johnson once again bowed to the better judgment of a 23-year-old footballer, in the latest of a series of high-profile U-turns."
For weeks, Johnson had refused to cede to calls to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during the school holidays in England. But on November 7th, the PM called Rashford to inform him he'd changed his mind. He promised a package that includes a £170 million Covid winter 2020 grant scheme to support vulnerable families, plus an extension of the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays of this year.
Despite his recovery and return to football, Rashford has no desire to drop his work on child food poverty. As he said following the PM's phone call: “There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough. But the intent the government have shown today is nothing but positive, and they should be recognised for that.”
Rashford for PM, perhaps? He seems to be better at the job than Johnson already.