Last week 322 members of the Conservative Party, the party currently in power within U.K. government, voted against extending free school meals to disadvantaged children over the holidays. The campaign to do so was popularized by Manchester United and England’s striker Marcus Rashford, who was recently awarded an MBE for his efforts to end child poverty. However, the government has voted against extending the support for low-income families throughout the October half-term, claiming to have set up ‘more effective’ measures to support families. The result of the vote has disappointed the majority, which has led to Rashford’s ‘alternative government’: the kindness of strangers and U.K. businesses stepping up and opening their doors.
Marcus Rashford had plead with the government to “work together to protect our most vulnerable children” who were facing the prospect of a break from school with no government support to fall back on. Nick Forbes, Newcastle city council leader said: “Children should never be left to go to be hungry – the fact that this Conservative government can’t see that shows it has completely lost its moral compass,” as quoted in The Guardian. This sentiment echoes around the U.K., with many taking to Twitter to air their frustrations regarding the hypocrisy within the Conservative’s vote. Last year’s Love Island winner Amber Rose Gill tweeted, “MPs get £125 per week food allowance… Big men and women on 80k a year need a food allowance but children don’t.” To this tune, as of yesterday, 80,000 people have signed a petition with 38 degrees to strip MPs of their food allowance given their majority vote to forego subsidizing low-income children over holiday periods.
Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, tweeted after the vote: “if you need reminding that our country is far better and more generous than our government, have a look at @marcusrashford’s twitter feed this morning.” The generosity of the U.K.’s local businesses, from cafes to restaurants, is even more astonishing given that many have been extremely hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Rashford noted this himself, stating that “the real superstars in this country can be found in the heart of most cities, towns and villages, working tirelessly to support our most vulnerable across the UK.” Not only have those communities and businesses been hit hard by the pandemic in a financial sense, but there is an emotional fatigue throughout the country after months of lockdown and poor communication from the government. However, despite this, the people of the U.K. embrace a community spirit that their government does not always foster.
Whilst the action of U.K. citizens is to be applauded, Jack Munroe has used this lens to explore the complexities of food poverty within an article for The Guardian. Munroe addressed how—whilst the generosity of local businesses and individuals is vital in resolving the immediate issue of those going hungry, we also need to address the conditions which lead to so many falling into food poverty in the first place. For Munroe, this starts with rectifying the decade of damage caused by austerity to the U.K.’s most vulnerable. The momentum of Rashford’s campaign needs to continue and hold the government to account for its failings in tackling child poverty rather than accepting its complacency towards the generosity of the British people.
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