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Rashford’s reality check on poverty

OPINION: The crusading footballer is admirably taking the country by the hand to expose the plight of hungry children

29 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Man United and England footballer Marcus Rashford. Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/cfcunofficial

THERE’S a tiny bit inside that thinks someone in government really, genuinely thought that if they somehow bunged Marcus Rashford an MBE then… he’d stop going on about feeding children who are going without.

Somebody, somewhere thought it might just work.

P’ah. You’d have more chance of getting to the end of this week without hearing Arsene Wenger talking about this new book of his.

No, St Marcus wasn’t going to be sidetracked by a gong from the Palace and you get the impression that he’d happily hand it back tomorrow if in return it meant nobody was going hungry.

But how did it come to this? Holiday hunger has been exposed and worsened by the coronavirus crisis, but children living in poverty have had empty stomachs for years, if not decades, in north London. Officially, around half of the children who live here can be classed as living in poverty, depending on what indicators you use.

And yet hardly any politicians were bringing forward emergency parliamentary motions or banging the drum so loud that a campaign couldn’t go unheard. No, they were tweeting about who scored the most points in Prime Minister’s Questions. Nobody cares about that apart from your lobby journalists and Twitter addicts.

In Camden, food poverty was exposed right here when this newspaper reported for several weeks on how some of the catering staff in the borough’s schools – the dinner ladies – were on such low wages that they were struggling to feed their own children when they got home at the end of the day.

One of the staff said she baked up a sweet potato and that’s all her child ate for dinner. Despite this, there was all sorts of prevarication about changing things and only when there was no let-up was it resolved that something had to be done. The council finally agreed a deal with its contractors to raise wages. It took them too long.

This was in 2015. It was on the front page. Food poverty isn’t a new problem. And it’s not unique to Camden. Local papers have been warning about this for years.

The difference this time is Rashford is admirably taking the country by the hand and explaining in very simple terms what the reality is.

And what do you know? All of a sudden, his own social media accounts are being @’d by councils, organisations and MPs hoping to catch his eye.

People who were in positions of great influence but did very little to slow the numbers falling into poverty are now gushing about how wonderful Marcus Rashford is. He must be wondering, seriously, did you guys not know?

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